Studies Suggest Hybrid Immunity is the Holy Grail, Urge Vaccination
Hybrid immunity is believed to be better than natural immunity.
People who had been infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus are not immune to reinfection even if they have stronger immune systems post-disease. With that said, a growing number of studies show that though natural immunity can work, hybrid immunity through vaccination could be better.
Research published in Science showed a potent immune response to the virus from a person with hybrid immunity. An effective immune response requires that the body generates enough long-lasting memory B and T cells to combat the presence of the virus until its spike wanes. The goal is to prevent or reduce symptoms, prevent hospitalization and death, and reduce one's ability to spread the disease to other people.
For somebody who has already had the infection, memory B and T cell responses appear to persist for at least eight months from onset. When further supported by vaccination, the theory is that this could go on for much longer.
However, the same study also expresses concern over the lack of total understanding of how a vaccine can affect immunological memory in the longer term. But given the urgency of combating the virus, the benefits of hybrid immunity seem to outweigh the perceived risks. This is likely why the FDA, the CDC, and other regulatory authorities worldwide have approved the use of booster doses and are recommending those who have recovered from the disease to still get immunized.
Hybrid Immunity Means Protection from Multiple COVID-19 Variants
In another study published in September, Rockefeller University scientists found that hybrid immunity through mRNA vaccination can produce antibodies against several variants of SARS-CoV-2 and even SARS-CoV-1, the one that caused the pandemic. This places people who were immunized after being infected in a better position to fight the virus. Unfortunately, the researchers added, this involved the risky situation of first being sick with COVID-19.
"Those people have amazing responses to the vaccine. I think they are in the best position to fight the virus. The antibodies in these people's blood can even neutralize SARS-CoV-1, the first coronavirus, which emerged 20 years ago. That virus is very, very different from SARS-CoV-2," said virologist Theodora Hatziioannou, who helped with some of the studies, in an interview with NPR.
There remains plenty of questions and opposing recommendations on whether or not hybrid immunity is the way to go, but the rising number of studies exploring it sets the stage for what could be a breakthrough in the future. For now, health professionals and scientists advise people to get themselves vaccinated and observe safety protocols as much as possible to protect themselves and those around them.