Antibodies in the nose protected against omicrons

The results come from an ongoing study where employees at Danderyd Hospital are regularly tested for infection with the virus that causes covid-19 (sars-cov-2).

In the current one studiesthe results of which were recently reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers followed up 338 people who had received their third vaccine injection against covid-19 at the turn of the year.

– These were people who had the best possible vaccine protection against covid-19. But when the omicron wave came, it quickly became apparent that the vaccines no longer provided as good protection against being infected, even though the protection against serious disease was still good, says one of the researchers behind the study, doctor Charlotte Thålin, to Dagens Medicin.

The risk for the vaccinated however, being infected by the virus that causes covid-19 looked different. It turned out that a certain form of antibodies, so-called IgA antibodies found in the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract, provided protection. The quarter of participants who had the highest levels of IgA antibodies in the nose had a 65 percent lower risk of omicron infection over five weeks, compared with those who had lower or no levels of IgA in the nose.

Among those who took part in the study, such antibodies were found in six out of ten, and they were mainly found in those who had previously had covid-19. The researchers’ explanation is that the body reacts to a natural infection by producing IgA in the nose, while it does not react to the vaccine in the same way. The reason for that, the researchers believe, is that a common vaccine given into the muscle does not pass through the airways, which the virus does if you become infected naturally.

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– It is expected that antibodies like this in the nose would provide protection against covid-19. But no one has shown the connection before, neither for omicron nor for earlier variants of the new coronavirus. However, we are surprised that it does not seem to require such high levels of antibodies in the nose for people to be visibly protected, says Charlotte Thålin to the newspaper.

Furthermore, the researchers saw that an omicron infection itself gave rise to much higher levels of IgA antibodies in the nose than may have been present initially.

– This finding is very interesting in the perspective of the very intensive development that is now taking place of nasal covid vaccines. Our data thus indicate that such vaccines can provide protection against being infected by omicrons, says Charlotte Thålin.

The hope now is that such vaccines will be more effective against the spread of the infection than the current vaccines are, which are not very effective at preventing the infection as such. If the spread of infection decreases, the pressure on the old and sick, who are at risk of serious illness despite the vaccines, also decreases. Lower spread of infection also means that the mutation rate will be lower, with a reduced risk of new virus variants as a result.

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