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Study: Infections from other coronaviruses could influence response to COVID vaccines

A new study from Northern Arizona University and TGEN suggests immune response to COVID-19 vaccines could be shaped by previous coronavirus infections. 

Key to the study was monitoring spike proteins, which viruses use to enter and infect host cells. Parts of those spike proteins can be shared by different types of the same virus.

The study found that COVID-19 vaccines generate antibodies that target segments of the spike protein that are unique to SARS-CoV-2 but also target regions that are shared across many coronaviruses. 

Senior author John Altin is an associate professor with TGEN.

“They’re really identical actually between all the variants of concern between Delta, Omicron, all the variants we are hearing about. So if we can generate a really strong immune response against these regions, it may be more difficult for the virus to escape that immunity," Altin said. 

By studying parts of the virus that infects host cells, researchers could use that as the basis for creating vaccines and treatments, potentially leading to a universal coronavirus vaccine. 

Altin says that is because the immune system gathers antibodies from earlier infections.

“Because they have this property that they recognize both the endemic viruses, previous common colds as well as the new pandemic virus, that may be exciting from the perspective of generating these very broad responses that can resist mutation," he said. 

Altin says he hopes to research how to get antibodies more resistant to variants. The paper was published in the journal Cell Reports

Greg Hahne started as a news intern at KJZZ in 2020 and returned as a field correspondent in 2021. He learned his love for radio by joining Arizona State University's Blaze Radio, where he worked on the production team.