Researchers say T-cells could hold some answers over COVID-19 immunity

ATLANTA — Could some people already be immune to COVID-19? Researchers are looking at what role T-cells have in how coronavirus affects people.

Channel 2′s Carol Sbarge spoke with a biomedical professor who explains why some people seem to have more protection against the virus than others.

“There are some people who seem to get very, very sick and other people have minimal symptoms. So, it’s increasingly though that T-cells may be a key piece of that puzzle,” said Dr. Andrew Gewirtz, a professor with Georgia State University’s Institute for Biomedical Science. “It may be that people who are more frequently getting colds that they’re exposed to more coronaviruses that may be the protective explanation of why they have some immunity.”

Gewirtz said almost of all of us have T-cells, which fight infections, but some of us appear to have T-cells from previous infections that can fight coronavirus.

“It was assumed because the virus was new and nobody was exposed to it, that nobody would have any degree of immunity to it,” Gewirtz said.


He said some people actually have T-cells that can recognize the virus.

“This is likely because even though the novel coronavirus is new that people have been exposed to other coronavirus for many years and some of those coronaviruses (bear) some similarities to the novel coronavirus,” Gewirtz said.

He told Sbarge, as researchers learn more about the T-cell levels of immunity it could show that the herd immunity level needed is less than the 60% to 70% originally thought.

“But now, in light of this silent immunity or T-cell that’s around, most people are thinking the thresholds will be somewhat lower than that,” Gewirtz said.

He said the ongoing research into T-cells and coronavirus is very valuable in the development of vaccines.

Gewirtz said the growing evidence of some with the T-cell protection is encouraging. He said it means we might reach herd immunity sooner and is likely helping with the creation of vaccines.

“It’s good news. Just how good, we just don’t know yet,” Gewirtz said.

Gewirtz said so far reinfection of coronavirus seems to be very rare.