Scientists at La Jolla Institute for Immunology (LJI) have published the first analysis of how four types of COVID-19 vaccines prepare the body to fight SARS-CoV-2. Their in-depth look at how T cells, B cells, antibody levels shift in the six months following vaccination is critical for understanding of how to protect people in the ongoing pandemic.
The new investigation, published in Cell, is the first study in history to compare how three different vaccine platforms trigger an immune response against the same pathogen.
“This study is important because it lets us answer how different vaccine platforms perform in terms of inducing immune responses,” says LJI Professor Alessandro Sette, Dr. Biol. Sci..
The researchers studied human immune responses to an mRNA platform (Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines), a recombinant protein-based adjuvanted vaccine platform (Novavax), and a viral vector-based platform (Janssen/J&J). All four vaccines in this study were designed to prepare the immune system to fight the same target, called the SARS-CoV-2 Spike protein.
“We aren’t giving a vaccine scorecard,” says LJI Research Assistant Professor Daniela Weiskopf, Ph.D., who co-led the study with Sette and LJI Professor Shane Crotty, Ph.D. “This kind of side-by-side analysis has never been done before with people who received different vaccines at the same time — in a real life setting. Just understanding the immune responses to these vaccines will help us integrate what is successful into vaccine designs going forward.”
- Antibodies: After six months, those given Moderna had highest levels of neutralizing antibodies, followed by those given the Pfizer-BioNTech and Novavax vaccines. The Janssen/J&J vaccine led to the lowest neutralizing antibody levels.
- B cells: Participants given the mRNA vaccines had the highest percentage of memory B cells after six months.
- CD4+ T cells: All participants retained a similar percentage of memory CD4+ “helper” T cells against the virus.
- CD8+ T cells: The Novavax vaccine led to the lowest levels of CD8+ “killer” T cells. A higher CD8+ response was seen in those given Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, or Janssen/J&J vaccines. Overall, after six months, only 60 to 70 percent of participants retained memory CD8+ T cells.
“This is a very valuable, comprehensive immunological evaluation of these four different vaccines,” says Crotty.
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