While there is still so much that is unknown about coronavirus immunity and studies are still in their beginning stages, researchers are tentatively suggesting that immunity may be more widespread than initially thought.
Researchers at the Karolinksa Institute in Sweden tested 200 people for both antibodies and T-cells. For every person testing positive for antibodies, two were found to have specific T-cells that identify and destroy infected cells. This was also seen in people who had mild or symptomless cases of COVID-19.
However, before you start running around without a mask on, it’s not clear yet whether this just protects the individual or if it can also stop them from passing COVID-19 to other people.
The 200 people tested at the Karolinksa Institute were blood donors while others were tracked down from the group of people first infected in Sweden. It’s possible those people did mount an antibody response, but either it had faded or was not currently detectable by tests. This could mean a larger group has some level of immunity than previously thought.
Professor Danny Altmann at Imperial College London described the study as “robust, impressive and thorough” and said it added to a growing body of evidence that “antibody testing alone underestimates immunity.”
According to one of the study’s authors, Marcus Buggert, this does not get us any closer to herd immunity and more analysis needs to be done.
Specifically, more research needs to be conducted to understand whether these T-cells completely block the virus or whether they might protect an individual from getting sick but not stop them from being a carrier and transmitter of the virus.
In the meantime, keep wearing your mask and practice social distancing!