People who get the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines produce immune system cells that protect against the common the cold.
That’s the conclusion a new study by researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine.
The scientists took blood samples from 30 healthy subjects before and after they had two doses of one or the other of the vaccines. The researchers then analyzed immune cells in the samples known at CD4+ T cells. They are also known as “helper” cells.
They get their nickname because they help other immune cells respond to invading viruses.
Helper cells defend against viruses by sending out chemical messengers that attract another type of immune cell called killer T cells. Killer T cells remove virus-infected cells from the body.
COVID Shots Protect Against Variants… And Possibly Colds
There was good news when scientists analyzed helper cells in subjects after they were fully vaccinated. Researchers found that their helper cells recognized coronavirus variants from the U.K. and South Africa. That means current vaccines should remain effective as these strains become prevalent.
And the scientists found more good news…
The helper cells produced by the vaccines protect against a prevalent form of the common cold. It’s called HCoV-NL63. It’s related to COVID-19. It’s a type of cold that primarily strikes seniors and children. It usually causes only mild symptoms that are typically associated with colds. But in rare cases, it can lead to pneumonia or bronchitis.
The researchers don’t know why the vaccines protect against this type of cold. But they think the cold virus shares some peptides with the COVID-19 virus. Peptides are the building blocks of proteins that make up a virus.
Dr. Joel Blankson is senior author of the study. He is a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “We suspect that HCoV-NL63 may have more (peptides) in common with COVID-19 than other common cold viruses,” said.
The study did not look at people who took the other shot that is available in the U.S., the vaccine from Johnson & Johnson. So we don’t know if the J&J shot offers similar cold protection.
Vaccines Can Fight Diseases Other Than Their Target
It may seem strange that a vaccine designed to stop one illness can protect you from another. This is called “cross-protection.” Actually, it’s not unusual.
One of the first examples of cross-protection was noted by Russian researchers in the 1950s. They found that people who got the polio vaccine were less likely to get the flu.
In the 1960s, the tuberculosis vaccine was found to protect against bladder cancer. It is still used to treat bladder cancer today.
And a recent study in the Netherlands found that people who received the flu shot are 39% less likely to get infected with coronavirus than people who did not get the flu vaccine.
The bottom line?
The Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines appear to work well against coronavirus variants—and they may provide bonus protection against the common cold.
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