BOSTON - Researchers at Boston Medical Center (BMC) and Boston University (BU) Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine today shared findings from a new study, published in Science Translational Medicine, that examined how well the COVID-19 vaccine protects against endemic coronaviruses (eCoVs), which are responsible for 15 to 30 percent of the “common cold” in human adults. The study found that COVID-19 disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 infection is more likely to lower the development of the common cold, than the COVID-19 vaccine. This new insight can help in the development of future vaccines for COVID-19 that might also provide immunity to the coronaviruses that are related to but different from SARS-CoV-2 such as the “common cold” and possible future pandemic coronaviruses.  

“The existing COVID-19 vaccines have been extremely effective at providing protection against COVID infections. Our Team wanted to better understand how the COVID-19 vaccination protects against the common cold to use as an indication of how well existing vaccines may protect against future coronaviruses,” said senior author Manish Sagar, MD, an internal medicine and infectious disease physician at Boston Medical Center and Professor of Medicine at the Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine. “Our findings, which indicate that current vaccines do not provide the same level of protection against the common cold as a prior SARS-CoV-2 infection does, have the potential to support the development of vaccines that can fight against a broader set of coronaviruses, including ones that may cause future epidemics.” 

While the impact of the common cold on COVID-19 has been widely studied, to the authors’ knowledge, this is the first study that has explored how a prior COVID-19 infection or COVID-19 vaccination influenced immunity from the common cold. 

Vaccines are often deemed effective if they generate antibodies that can prevent infections. While both a COVID-19 infection or vaccination provided similar antibody responses, there’s a discrepancy in how each reacts to eCoVs. To better understand this, the researchers at BMC and BU examined the importance of T-cells, part of the immune system that helps kill virus infected cells and possibly decrease disease severity. The authors found that T cell responses, specifically targeting two nonstructural eCoV proteins - nsp12 and nsp13 - were enriched only in those with prior infection. This data suggests that T cells may be critical in preventing severe disease caused by future types of coronaviruses. 

“New coronaviruses could emerge in the human population in the future, and our hope is that this study provides insight into how immunity against SARS-CoV-2 could protect against severe disease caused by these unknown future coronaviruses. The goal of our study is to provide this information to the scientific community, and thus inform vaccine development now, before new coronaviruses have emerged,” said lead author David J. Bean, a researcher in the Department of Virology, Immunology and Microbiology, Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine. 

The research from this new study reflects BMC’s commitment to excellence in research and patient care.  Research of this caliber can help to shape the future of vaccines developed to combat COVID-19 and future coronaviruses that we may see in our lifetime. 

The full study is published in Science Translational Medicine and can be located here


About Boston Medical Center 

Boston Medical Center models a new kind of excellence in healthcare, where innovative and equitable care empowers all patients to thrive. We combine world-class clinicians and cutting-edge treatments with compassionate, quality care that extends beyond our walls. As an award-winning health equity leader, our diverse clinicians and staff interrogate racial disparities in care and partner with our community to dismantle systemic inequities. And as a national leader in research and the teaching affiliate for Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine, we’re driving the future of care. 

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