Long-term COVID-19 containment will be shaped by strength and duration of natural, vaccine-induced immunity

Monday, Sep 21, 2020

Morgan Kelly, Princeton Environmental Institute

New research suggests that the impact of natural and vaccine-induced immunity will be key factors in shaping the future trajectory of the global coronavirus pandemic, known as COVID-19. In particular, a vaccine capable of eliciting a strong immune response could substantially reduce the future burden of infection, according to a study by Princeton researchers published in the journal Science Sept. 21.

“Much of the discussion so far related to the future trajectory of COVID-19 has rightly been focused on the effects of seasonality and non-pharmaceutical interventions [NPIs], such as mask-wearing and physical distancing,” said co-first author Chadi Saad-Roy, a Ph.D. candidate in Princeton’s Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics. “In the short term, and during the pandemic phase, NPIs are the key determinant of case burdens. However, the role of immunity will become increasingly important as we look into the future.”

“Ultimately, we don’t know what the strength or duration of natural immunity to SARS-CoV-2 — or a potential vaccine — will look like,” explained co-first author Caroline Wagner, an assistant professor of bioengineering at McGill University who worked on the study as a postdoctoral research associate in the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI).

“For instance, if reinfection is possible, what does a person’s immune response to their previous infection do?” Wagner asked. “Is that immune response capable of stopping you from transmitting the infection to others? These will all impact the dynamics of future outbreaks.” 

The current study builds on Princeton research published in Science May 18 that reported that local variations in climate are not likely to dominate the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and included many of the same authors, who are all affiliated with PEI’s Climate Change and Infectious Disease initiative.

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