Boding well for immunity hope, scientists say all COVID patients make antibodies

The case for immunity from reinfection for coronavirus patients is looking good, say researchers at Tel Aviv University

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Illustrative: Red blood cells alongside antibodies in an artery. (urfinguss; iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative: Red blood cells alongside antibodies in an artery. (urfinguss; iStock by Getty Images)

Everyone who gets the coronavirus makes antibodies, researchers at Tel Aviv University have determined, saying this offers some reassurance on the uncertainty-ridden topic of immunity.

“What we have found is reassuring,” immunologist Mordechai Gerlic told The Times of Israel. “We have optimistic results.”

The topic of coronavirus antibodies and immunity is fraught with uncertainty. There have been reports of people possibly becoming reinfected with the virus soon after recovery, though there is speculation these could be issues related to testing. And there have been concerns that while some patients generate antibodies, others may not.

But Prof. Gerlic said his latest research indicates that everyone who is infected with the virus does develop antibodies crucial to fight reinfection. He tested 70 COVID-19 patients who were hospitalized at Petah Tikva’s HaSharon Hospital, and found that all but one had antibodies. He suspects that the exception was a false negative, and is performing a repeat test.

Professors Mordechai Gerlic (siting) and Ariel Munitz (standing) from Tel Aviv University’s TAU Center for Combatting Pandemics (Yoav Biran)

Gerlic also found that in the case of the coronavirus, the key antibody type that generally provides protection against viruses, IgG, only decreases slightly within the first two months after the onset of symptoms — even though levels of other, less important antibody types drop sharply. “IgG is the antibody type we consider to give us immunity for a long time, and it’s still there in high amounts after 60 days, which is reassuring,” he said.

Gerlic suggested that this adds to a growing body of research countering fears that recovered coronavirus patients aren’t immune even immediately after recovery, and said that while he can’t state with certainty how long IgG levels will remain high in recovered patients, he is optimistic.

Mordechai Gerlic (left) and Ariel Munitz from Tel Aviv University’s TAU Center for Combatting Pandemics (courtesy of Tel Aviv University)

Gerlic and his colleague Prof. Ariel Munitz found that seriously ill patients developed the same level of antibodies as others.

Munitz said: “This is important, because one might have thought that the severely ill became so sick because they did not develop a sufficient amount of antibodies, and were thus unable to combat the virus effectively.”

The researchers found that antibodies actually develop faster in patients with severe infections, and said this gives rise to an interesting hypothesis. Some research has suggested that in serious coronavirus patients, the immune system goes in to overdrive, and ends up harming them. Munitz said his team’s observation may support this idea.

Discussing the severe patients he observed, Munitz said: “We assume that the fast development of antibodies in these patients indicates that their immune system is hyper-active, but this hypothesis requires further research.”

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