9 months ago

Immunity to COVID-19: What does it mean and how can it be achieved?

Some of the most important unknowns with COVID-19 are as follows:

  • Do we know for sure if a person is immune to COVID-19 after infection?
  • What percentage of the U.S. population will be immune after this first wave of infections is over?
  • Will immunity last over time, or will it fade?
  • If and when a vaccine can produce immunity and stop the pandemic?

It’s helpful in thinking through these questions to understand how the immune system and immunity testing work. A viral infection begins when a virus enters a cell of your body. For the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, the spike protein on the viral surface attaches to a cell via a protein receptor on the cell’s surface called ACE-2 and lets itself in. The virus hijacks the cell’s machinery to make copies of itself. Those copies break out of the cell and then spread around your body. The viral copies enter more cells and make more copies, resulting in the death of the cells and disease.

The first type of immunity is known as the innate immune response. This is the base-level protection that everyone has to defend against infections even those the body has never seen the virus before. Once the virus is found, your cells “start secreting cytokines (signaling molecules)” to tell the neighboring cells that there’s a viral infection. Cytokines promote inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation is something that can make you feel sick, but it can also help stop the disease by killing the virus and/or attract cells and molecules that aid in the healing process.

Viruses have evolved ways to counter this initial response. Sometimes viruses produce so many cytokines that they trigger white blood cells to turn against healthy cells that can then lead to organ failure and death in a term called “cytokine storm.” It is unclear why some people develop this storm and not others, though there are indications that aging is a factor, as are underlying conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes or other conditions, which may alter immunity. With COVID-19 this “storm” can occur in the lungs, kidneys, brain, eyes, mouth, nose and even the skin on the toes.

The second type of immunity is called acquired immunity. With this type of immunity, the body actively secretes protein called antibodies. Antibodies are protein molecules that can kill viruses or, in the case of COVID-19, they block the attachment of the virus to the cell receptor. Antibodies are highly specific and can only interact with the virus, which induced the reaction. Antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus are mostly found in the plasma (serum) and it can take from five to 10 days to be detected by most laboratory (serological) tests. However, research has shown with most viral infections can take up to two weeks to clear the virus.

However, not all antibodies can neutralize viral infections. In fact, some antibodies provide no useful propose. Therefore, detecting antibodies, which can react with SARS-CoV-2 virus may not tell the whole picture. Scientists need to perform additional tests to determine if those antibodies are functional against the virus.

Antibody tests

There are two main types of antibody tests. The first looks for antibodies and can be completed quickly. This is called an ELISA test (short for Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay). This test doesn’t provide the most complete picture of immunity. Currently there are 250 kits available that use an ELISA, with sampling that can be done in testing areas or in cases in home using a small drop of blood; however, the FDA has only verified the validity of 12.

The second test is called a serum neutralization test, and it takes a few days to process and requires a larger amount of blood. It not only looks for antibodies, but also measures the ability of the antibodies to prevent the infection of a known amount of virus in destroying living cells in culture. Ideally, scientists will correlate the two tests and figure out which concentrations of antibodies that confer the highest level of immunity. It’s still not known what levels of antibodies are needed to have lasting, protective immunity. What also remains to be shown is whether the presence of antibodies means you can’t give the virus to someone else.

These tests are useful, but they don’t answer everything. As noted earlier, it takes days, if not weeks, for the body to produce antibodies, therefore a negative antibody test doesn’t mean the virus isn’t present. Since antibodies are produced during an infection and linger after it’s cleared, a positive antibody test doesn’t mean that the virus is no longer active.

However, deploying these tests will help answer a lot of questions. Most basically, it can help a person know if they have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 virus. On a larger scale—if deployed in well-designed studies—serological tests could reveal the complete picture of the pandemic. They can also help scientists answer basic questions like:

  • How many people infected with the disease die?
  • What percentage of the population has been infected?
  • Who, and how many, may have spread it without knowing?

Serological tests could also potentially allow people who have immunity to return to work. That could be a huge boost to front-line health workers who may have been exposed to the virus, but are desperately needed back in action. Even if people do become immune, one thing that is not known is how long that immunity would last. That’s unfortunately not something that can determined until years of testing.

Scientists don’t understand why for some viral infections, your immunity never wanes. People who are immune to smallpox, for example, are immune for life. Less reassuring is that scientists have observed antibody levels to other coronaviruses (there are four coronavirus strains that infect people as the common cold) can last over a period of years. With the SARS virus infection antibodies can be detected in humans after four years and with MERS one year. These two are related coronaviruses, which have caused recent pandemics. However, no one can say at this time what the duration of immunity will be against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Over the long term, the immune system becomes less effective with advancing age and these older individuals can acquire more chronic illnesses that can hamper the response to a virus, even if their immune system recognizes. It will be years before scientists can understand what aging means for immunity to COVID-19.

Another problem seen with coronaviruses, is that their genome is unstable and mutations in the spike protein can occur. These mutations may lead to vaccination failure since the antibodies produced by a vaccine may not recognize the mutated spike protein. As is the case with influenza viruses new vaccines may need to be developed at regular intervals, which may take years to be determined. As of yet no such mutations in the SARS-COV-2 virus have been identified.

The CDC, various states and universities, medical research centers and governmental facilities around the world are now conducting serological surveys for SARS-CoV-2 viral antibodies. The tests are being done in public places in volunteers, which have never shown COVID-19 symptoms in an attempt to figure out who was previously infected with the virus. A survey like this can show the actual background rate of infection and answer critical questions like what proportion of people have been infected without showing symptoms and where the virus has spread in a population and quantify the overall rates of severe complications. Knowing these variables can help health officials better target interventions. This “contact tracing” is where trained staff interview people who have been diagnosed with COVID19 or tested positive with an antibody test to figure out who they have recently been in contact with. Then, they communicate with those people that may have been exposed to the virus, encouraging them to quarantine and/or be tested for the virus to prevent spreading the disease any further. It is part public health work and part investigation.

Preliminary results using antibody testing indicate that as many at 10 times the number of people have been infected, then the number of people that have been diagnosed with the disease. A medical term R0 tells the number of persons, which one person can infect. Current estimates of this value are between one and two depending on the geographical location of the outbreak. For a pandemic to be halted requires an R0 less than one.

Convalescent plasma

Another tactic under investigation is using convalescent plasma. The idea is to harvest the liquid part of blood, including proteins used for clotting, from people who have survived COVID-19. This plasma contains antibodies to the virus, so scientists are seeing whether it can help people with active infections get better. Researchers are also studying whether convalescent plasma can be used as a prophylactic to prevent COVID-19. Preliminary results so far are encouraging.

Researchers are also developing monoclonal antibodies in the laboratory against the virus in mice using genetically engineered systems. These antibodies could also be used to treat or prevent the disease. But antibody transfusions, whether they come from COVID-19 survivors or were created in a lab, only confer protection against the virus for a few months.

Long-term strategy of herd immunity

The long-term strategy is to have enough people in a population immune to the virus so that it no longer spreads easily. This is known as herd immunity. It usually requires between 70 and 90 percent of a group of people to be effective, depending on the contagiousness of the virus. Current estimates are that at least 70 percent of the population needs to have been infected to stop the COVID19 pandemic. With a large enough share of immunity in the population, even the remaining people who are not immune face a much lower likelihood of being infected. With few susceptible people in close proximity, pockets of infection quickly fade out.

Herd immunity can be achieved through vaccination or natural infection. According to the World Health Organization, there are currently 102 vaccines which are being developed by laboratories around the world using a variety of techniques, which have been used in the past to develop vaccines against both the SARS and MERS viruses. President Trump recently said he was personally in charge of “Operation Warp Speed” to get 300 million doses into American arms by January, which is a bold challenge indeed. Already, the administration has identified 14 vaccine projects. Combing resources of fewer research groups using different molecular platforms makes good sense.

An ideal vaccine would be molecular based containing only a portion of the spike protein gene and produce immunity in at least 90 percent of the recipients after only one application with only minimal adverse reactions in a small percentage of recipients. It will also need to prevent replication of the virus (sterile immunity) and provide this level protection for at least one year. However, it will need to be determined if a booster administration is needed especially during the first year of use.

There are eight vaccines currently being tested in humans in five different countries. This is necessary if countries limit their early vaccines to their own population. Commercial vaccines are normally licensed in three phases. The first two are primarily for safety and the three for protection (as measured by the ability to produce neutralizing antibodies). This process normally takes from 12 to 18 months to complete. Two of the aforementioned vaccines are now entering phase two. Due to the necessity to rush this vaccine into the market to prevent the world’s economy from collapsing, this entire process has been accelerated and scientists hope to have a safe efficacious vaccine for first responders by the end of the year and for the general population sometime next year. However, the timing for the production and distribution of a vaccine for this goal to achieve herd immunity is unknown since the medical infrastructure for viral or antibody testing and administration of a vaccine in underdeveloped countries is poor and hampered by poverty, governmental corruption, war and lawlessness. In addition, even in developed countries, a mistrust for scientific and vaccination data is often communicated through social media. Estimates to vaccinate 70 percent of the world population may exceed $25 billion.

One thing that is accepted by most scientists and medical experts is that rushing too fast to approve and distribute a vaccine is a gamble since the vaccine(s) may not provide effective long-term immunity and may cause as yet unknown adverse reactions. In addition, some companies are willing to perform a challenge infection, which intentionally infects young, vaccinated volunteers with live SARS-CoV-2. However, this is dangerous, because no one can say what the virus will do in people if the vaccine does not work. These challenge studies have been successfully undertaken in several monkey species in the lab, but how this translates in humans is unknown.

There are presently a number of companies in several countries that are building facilities to mass-produce a commercially licensed vaccine. However, there is probably no need to vaccinate the entire population, because in a year at least 20 percent of the world’s population could have already been to be exposed to the virus. The caveat of not finding a successful vaccine by next spring is that it will take some time in 2021 or 2022 before we reach heard immunity. If that is the case, then plan B to develop and test antivirals in sick humans becomes a necessity to treat the 100s of millions of people who will become seriously ill due to COVID19.

Obliviously there are many questions that have been answered about this virus over the past four months, however, there are many more that have remain unanswered. How fast we answer these remaining questions no one can say.

Joseph Giambrone is a professor emeritus in Auburn University’s Department of Poultry Science with a joint appointment in the Department of Pathobiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine. During his graduate research career at the University of Delaware, he was part of a research group that developed the first vaccine against an antigenic variant of an avian coronavirus. During a sabbatical leave during his tenure at Auburn, he was part of a research group in Australia that sequenced the entire genome of antigenic variant of a coronavirus of chickens. During his 42-year research career as a molecular virologist, immunologist and epidemiologist, he has made critical advancements in understanding the ecology of viral pathogens, led efforts to improve detection and surveillance of viral diseases and developed new and effective vaccines and vaccine strategies to protect commercially reared chickens as well as pathogens, such as avian influenza viruses, which have spilled over into human populations. His research has had a profound impact on practices used today to reduce the incidence and severity of viral diseases of commercially reared poultry as well in human populations.

4 hours ago

Alabama basketball defeats Mississippi State to stay undefeated in SEC play

The Alabama Crimson Tide are now 8-0 in conference play after defeating Mississippi State 81-73 on Saturday.

With a formula of driving the lane and passing out to perimeter shooters, Alabama has made the three-point shot their go-to game plan behind shooters like John Petty and Jaden Shackelford.

For the Bulldogs, their defense was up to the task at times. However, in crucial moments of the game, Mississippi State was unable to cover Bama’s three-point specialists and ended up getting burned.

493

In their victory over the Bulldogs, Bama shot over 42% from behind the line, and Petty tied with freshman guard Joshua Primo for the most threes in the game at four. Mississippi State as a team only hit four three-pointers on Saturday.

Petty spoke to Dari Nowkhah and Daymeon Fishback on the SEC Network’s “SEC Now” after the game. On how he and his teammates have had so much success from behind the arc, Petty said, “We honestly don’t shoot as many threes in practice as you would expect from what we shoot in our games.”

That is hard to believe, considering how well the Tide have done this season shooting the three. Through just 16 games, the Alabama hoops squad has hit 165 three-point shots.

Herb Jones is arguably Bama’s best all-around player. On both offense and defense, he is able to be a difference-maker for his team. Saturday, Jones was the leading scorer on his team with 17 points. He also added five rebounds and seven assists to his stat line.

Bama head coach Nate Oats has completely changed the way Alabama is playing basketball, and his players seem to not only enjoy but also flourish in his system. His system is predicated on the players having the freedom to shoot almost anytime they want as long as the ball has touched the paint, or inside, at least once on the possession.

On playing for Oats, Petty said, “It’s been great playing for coach Oats. He gives us freedom on the offensive end, as long as you’re playing hard on defense, he gives you that freedom on offense to just play.”

Petty added that he was used to the freedom of his play in high school, and he enjoys being able to play with the freedom to shoot when he wants.

For a player like Petty, shot freedom is the reason he has become a star the last two seasons.

On how many threes he would make out of 100 wide-open shots, Petty stated, “If I shot 100 wide-open threes, I would probably hit at least 85.”

He added with a laugh, “I’m pretty high level when I’m wide open.”

Alabama is playing better and better each week, even beating some of the top SEC schools handily, including Kentucky, Florida and Auburn.

The Tide are on their way up and remain at the top of the conference with the only true challenges left being teams they have already beaten.

One of those teams travels to Tuscaloosa this week, as Alabama takes on Kentucky in Coleman Coliseum for a rematch. The first time the two teams met this season, Bama defeated the Wildcats by 20 points. The game is set to take place on Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. CT in another tough test for the Tide and their unblemished conference record.

Alabama’s win on Saturday moves their overall record to 13-3 on the season.

Hayden Crigler is a contributing college football writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him through email: hayden@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter: @hayden_crigler.

7 hours ago

Fmr State Rep. Ed Henry: Pardon possibility looked bleak at the very end — Came at last minute from Trump at behest of Mo Brooks

Last week, former State Rep. Ed Henry was among 73 individuals to receive an end-of-term pardon from President Donald Trump, but it was not a certainty until the very end, according to Henry, who had pleaded guilty to a Medicare fraud case in 2019.

During an interview with Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5 on Friday, Henry said the process had actually begun in September and was on track through the end of the year until the events of January 6 ensued.

However, with just hours remaining in the Trump presidency, which included lobbying from U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Auburn) and U.S. Reps. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) and Barry Moore (R-Enterprise), Henry received word he would receive the pardon.

505

“I had desired one but didn’t even know how to do the process,” he said. “A close friend of mine, businessman up here, Tom Fredericks, reached out to Congressman [Mo] Brooks at a breakfast and just said, ‘I need you to look into working on a pardon for Ed Henry. Congressman Brooks — he had known the case. He had followed it, and I had given him all kinds of information about the lunacy of what they were claiming. He agreed, and he said I had never done this before but started the process back in September and just trying to figure out how to do the pardon. Basically, you’ve just got to get enough people to push it through the White House counsel. Senator [Tommy] Tuberville got on board right after he got elected. And then, Congressman Barry Moore from down in Enterprise in the second district has known about the case from the beginning. He and I served in the House together, so he knew the entirety of it. And they started pushing.”

“We were in line to get the pardon I was told probably in December,” Henry continued. “And then, all the chaos that ensued on January 6 kind of changed the landscape, and I have a friend that works in the White House staff — I didn’t know they were still there until all of this started happening — but I was told instead of the list getting longer, which is what typically happens on the last day of the president’s term,  President Trump’s list got shorter. At 9 p.m. on Tuesday night, I got a message from Congressman Brooks that said he said he had just spoken with Donald Trump, and my name did not make the 72 people that were getting a pardon. Congressman Brooks asked President Trump to specifically look at my case and the merits of what had gone on, despite White House counsel. President Trump told him, ‘I’ll look at it, but it is probably too late. I don’t think I can make it happen at this point.'”

“We were a little bit let down,” he added. “But honestly, I felt at peace about it. It doesn’t really define me, and I was ready to move on. And at 10 o’clock, I got a call back from Congressman Brooks that said the President of the United States just called and said, ‘Call Ed Henry. Let him know he’s a good guy. And I’ve got his pardon.’ It took two hours to actually pull all of that together, and at midnight, my phone started blowing up from different people all around the country that I had received the last presidential pardon that Donald Trump gave.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

9 hours ago

Lake Eufaula lands 2021 Bassmaster Team Championship event

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The last spot in the 2022 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk will be filled on historic Lake Eufaula as this Alabama fishery hosts the Bassmaster Team Championship and Classic Fish-Off Dec. 8-11, 2021.

Battling for that coveted berth in the Bassmaster Classic will be the grassroots anglers competing at the Bassmaster Team Championship. The team portion of the event will be held Dec. 8-9 and will feature anglers from across the country — 32 states in 2020. The winning duo will not only win a cash prize, but they’ll also lead the charge into the Classic Fish-Off which will take place Dec. 10-11.

247

The top three teams through Day 2 — six anglers in all — will have their weights zeroed and then compete individually in the Fish-Off. The competitor with the heaviest two-day total of the group will earn their spot in the Classic. 

In 2020, that honor went to Jordan Wiggins, a 29-year-old Cullman, Ala., resident whose older brother Jesse notched a third-place finish in the 2019 Classic.

“What a wonderful way to end a year,” says Ann Sparks, Tourism and Main Street Executive Director for the City of Eufaula. “We are thrilled to be hosting the Bassmaster Team Championship and showing off what Lake Eufaula has to offer! Most anglers have fished our great lake, but we are excited to show off our changes and improvements to our beautiful town.”

B.A.S.S. has visited Lake Eufaula 17 times for major events, including an Elite Series tournament last year that was broadcast live to an audience of more than 2.8 million. The town itself — with a statue declaring Eufaula as the “Big Bass Capital of the World” — is known throughout the fishing industry as the hometown of legendary angler and lure designer Tom Mann. It’s the home of Mann’s Bait Company and the Johnson Outdoors location where Humminbird electronics are produced.

In addition to the Team Championship event, Lake Eufaula will also host the Bassmaster B.A.S.S. Nation Kayak Series powered by TourneyX on May 1.

The tournaments are being hosted by the Eufaula Barbour Chamber of Commerce.

(Courtesy of B.A.S.S.)

9 hours ago

Del Marsh: Legislative priorities include gaming, broadband for remainder of Alabama Senate tenure; Expect gambling proposal next week

Earlier this year, State Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) announced he was stepping down from the pro tempore post, and Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper) would assume the role for the 2021 legislative session.

Marsh says he gave up the pro tem position he had held since 2010 to focus on his legislative priorities centered around education.

During an interview with Mobile radio’s FM Talk 106.5 on Friday, Marsh gave listeners a preview of his efforts, including gaming and rural broadband internet access. The Calhoun County Republican revealed details of his gaming proposal would be “probably out next week.”

361

“One of the first things I’m going to be coming out with, and details will probably out next week — I’ve been working for some months on a comprehensive gaming package for the state of Alabama,” he said. “And the reason I’m doing this, Jeff — one is to provide scholarships for our young people — not only to those going to four-year universities — the scholarships to post-secondary, the trade schools that we have such a desperate need for those types of skills in Alabama but I think that a lottery will provide that. On the other side, you’ve heard me talk for some time about the need for broadband and the state of Alabama coverage from part of the state to the other. Rural areas during this pandemic have been unequally served because they don’t have access. I mean, think about the kids out there that are doing virtual learning, and then those that can’t do it at all because they don’t have internet access.”

“I think that a gaming bill can provide a long-term statewide broadband program and provide scholarships for our young people and young adults, who are perhaps looking at career changes,” Marsh added. “That piece of legislation will be a constitutional amendment. It’ll be for the people to vote on. It is my intention to get it through the Senate and the House. I’ve been working closely with leadership in both houses, and I’m optimistic we can get something out. It will tail onto the gaming commission the governor just finished. My bill had already had a lot of those components in it. But we’ve taken the suggestions of the governor’s gaming commission and added them into the piece of legislation, and I look forward to getting that out and letting the people take a look at that early in the session.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

9 hours ago

Auburn basketball begins to find its stride in a 109-86 beat down of South Carolina

The Auburn Tigers have had a rough going in the beginning of SEC play, losing five of their last seven SEC games coming into Saturday’s matchup with South Carolina. However, recent wins against Kentucky and Georgia have put the Tigers on a much brighter path with endless possibilities.

One big factor for the turnaround is point guard Sharife Cooper, who had to work out eligibility issues with the NCAA early in the season.

In the game Saturday, Cooper picked up a double-double by scoring 16 points and recording 12 assists to propel Auburn to a 109-86 victory over the Gamecocks. The 6’1” point guard also managed to snag six rebounds for the Tigers.

Guard Allen Flanigan scored the most points of anyone in this contest, which has become normal for the sophomore this season. Flanigan went 4-6 from the three-point line to help get him to his team-high 24 points.

Defeating the Gamecocks was a big win for this young Tiger team, considering that even the most experienced Bruce Pearl-coached teams have had trouble facing Frank Martin’s squads.

291

However, the Tigers were able to get it done in Columbia. The key to the win was getting the entire team involved. Pearl’s group had no problem there with five players scoring in double figures.

This Auburn team made history with 109 points being the most ever against an SEC team on the road in program history. On the record-breaking performance, Flanigan said, “Everybody who comes to Auburn, we come here to make history. We made history tonight.”

Forwards J.T. Thor and Jaylin Williams tied for the most rebounds on Saturday at seven a piece. Auburn’s big men are starting to attack the boards, which is something the Tigers have been missing even from their great teams in recent years. Williams added 18 points to his stat line, which was second on the team.

Williams has been a key player in the Tiger’s offense this season so far, but he seemed to start growing towards a more pivotal role this week. That could pay off for Auburn in the long run, considering he is very athletic with a big frame and a confident perimeter shot.

If Pearl can get Williams more comfortable on offense and give him a larger role, the Tigers will have multiple star players to lean on in crucial situations, which is great for a young team.

The Auburn Tigers improve to 3-5 in conference play. They will have a quick turnaround this week, hosting the 19th-ranked Missouri Tigers on Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. CT on ESPN 2. If Auburn wants to climb up the SEC ladder, what better opportunity is there than a team in the top five of the conference?

Hayden Crigler is a contributing college football writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him through email: hayden@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter: @hayden_crigler.