It seems like each day, and there’s more bad news about coronavirus variants.
Headlines are claiming the variants are becoming deadlier, and stories warning that some variants could escape the vaccines, imprisoning us in a never-ending pandemic. With every step forward — like how millions of Americans are being vaccinated daily — it feels as though the variants send us two steps back.
A growing number of infectious disease experts are now saying the variant narrative has spiraled out of control. Yes, several variants are circulating, and some indeed appear to be more transmissible. Yes, we need to continue wearing masks and protecting ourselves and others until we get closer to herd immunity. But there’s no definite evidence that any variants are more virulent, and there is currently no reason to think the variants will render our vaccines completely useless, infectious disease experts say.
Our immune systems are highly complex, and even if some parts of the immune system don’t respond as robustly to the variants after vaccination, it’s not going to give up on us that easily.
The COVID vaccines help you produce antibodies ― and they trigger another immune response that also fights the virus.
Much research regarding immunity against COVID-19 (which can be achieved either through vaccination or natural infection) has looked at antibodies. These little fighters go after the coronavirus and prevent it from binding to cells in our body and creating an infection. Some lab studies have found that antibodies don’t do as good of a job-fighting variant, which has raised fears that the vaccines might not keep us safe.
But antibodies don’t tell the whole story. When people say antibody levels dip ― and therefore protection against COVID-19 disappears ― “this is wrong,” said Jay Levy, a virologist, and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. The immune system is very complex, and in addition to antibodies, there’s a whole other aspect, known as the cell-mediated immune response, that’s just as important, if not more. This part helps create something called T-cells, which are crucial to preventing infections. The COVID-19 vaccines don’t just generate antibodies; they also prompt your immune system to produce T-cells.