The vaccine vs natural immunity: antibodies to differ COVID-19 and which effectively
The researchers tested the antibodies elicited by mRNA vaccination and compared them to antibodies from natural infection with SARS-CoV-2. They found that the vaccinated people did not develop one type of antibody, but had another. Writes about it News Medical.
The vaccine did not help humans develop antibodies to the viral nucleocapsid protein, but it did contain potent antibodies to the receptor-binding domain of the RBD spike protein.
Several vaccines have been approved to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 severe acute respiratory syndrome, such as those developed by Moderna and Pfizer, have shown exceptional efficacy. Available data indicate strong protection within two weeks of vaccination.
Scientists at the University of California, Irvine studied the immune response elicited by mRNA vaccines to better understand how they compare to antibodies generated by natural disease.
The authors used data from ongoing studies in Orange County, California. The first analysis was carried out in July 2020, and the second in December 2020. Samples collected from surveys by the University of Irvine Medical Center in May and December 2020 were also analyzed.
Samples from vaccinated people were collected in January, February and March 2021. The scientists used an antigen microarray to measure antibodies against 37 coronaviruses and influenza antigens.
Antibodies are different for vaccination and natural infection
The prevalence of antibodies in the study areas was 18% in July 2020 and 26% in December 2020. In the hospital, the antibody prevalence was 13% in December 2020. After vaccination began at the hospital, in March 2021, the antibody level was 98,7%. This suggested that the mRNA vaccine is capable of inducing strong antibody production.
There was a difference between antibodies caused by natural infection and antibodies from a vaccine. Since it does not contain the nucleocapsid protein, the vaccine-induced antibodies do not contain antibodies against it. However, antibodies against nucleocapsid have been found in natural infection, suggesting that it may be a biomarker of natural infection.
Further testing showed that the vaccine drugs produced more antibodies against the spike protein receptor binding domain (RBD) compared to antibodies seen in natural infection. All people developed antibodies to seasonal flu and colds, and the levels were the same for everyone, whether they were sick with COVID-19 or not.
With natural infection, antibodies are produced to the nucleocapsid and all fragments of the spike protein. The highest levels of antibodies were recorded against the nucleocapsid, full-length spike protein, and the S2 subunit. Anti-RBD antibody levels were weak and could serve as a mechanism for the development of new variants of the virus.
The vaccinated individuals showed high levels of antibodies against the full-length spike protein, the S2 subunit, much higher levels for the RBD and S1 subunits. These people also had spike protein and RBD cross-reactive antibodies that are not present in natural infections.
The mRNA vaccine likely adopts a protein conformation that presents cross-reactive epitopes. This may be useful against emerging variants of the virus and suggests that the antibodies produced may still be effective against them.
mRNA vaccines elicit a strong immune response
Natural infection produces the same level of antibodies against the nucleocapsid and the spike protein. Vaccinated people are divided into two groups: with and without antibodies against the nucleocapsid protein. Those with antibodies to the nucleocapsid may have been naturally infected earlier.
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Some people showed good antibody levels after the first dose, but most required another dose for steady antibody levels that were observed about 35 days after the first dose. The data also suggests that people who have previously been naturally infected develop more antibodies in response to the vaccine.
The results of the study are similar to the levels of antibodies observed in clinical trials of mRNA vaccines, indicating the rapid production of antibodies. The high levels of anti-RBD antibodies seen in vaccinated individuals suggest good protection. RBD is a part of the spike protein that binds to the angiotensin-converting enzyme-2 (ACE2) receptor on host cells.
Antibodies from natural infection do not have high levels against RBD. This may be due to the fact that RBD is able to hide itself to prevent recognition by the host's immune response. The less robust and variable antibody response to natural infection suggests that immunity acquired from natural infection may not be as strong as immunity from vaccination.
“We must not assume that previously infected people are immune or that they cannot transmit the virus,” the authors write.
Thus, the vaccine causes more consistent antibody production, and even people who have previously been infected can benefit from the vaccination.
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