A new study, published in Nature Communications and led by Imperial College London researchers, provides the first evidence of a protective role for these T cells. While previous studies have shown that T cells induced by other coronaviruses can recognize SARS-CoV-2, the new study examines for the first time how the presence of these T cells at the time of SARS-CoV-2 exposure influences whether someone becomes infected.
The researchers also say their findings provide a blueprint for a second-generation, universal vaccine that could prevent infection from current and future SARS-CoV-2 variants, including Omicron.
Dr. Rhia Kundu, first author of the study, from Imperial’s National Heart & Lung Institute, says: “Being exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus doesn’t always result in infection, and we’ve been keen to understand why. We found that high levels of pre-existing T cells, created by the body when infected with other human coronaviruses like the common cold, can protect against COVID-19 infection.
That helps explain why some people are more resistant.