The Gloria Soler Foundation gives support to a project by IrsiCaixa and the Northern Metropolitan Primary Health Care of the ICS to study the long-term immunity against COVID-19 in the elderly.
The coexistence of various diseases and a compromised immune system makes older people more vulnerable to severe COVID-19. Being, therefore, a risk group, it is very important to dedicate efforts to characterize their level of protection against SARS-CoV-2, both after having passed the infection and after having been vaccinated. In this sense, IrsiCaixa and the North Metropolitan Primary Care of the Catalan Institute of Health (ICS) are studying, thanks to the support of the Fundació Gloria Soler, the degree of protection and the duration of the immune response in older people living in residences, after receiving the vaccine or passing the natural infection. In addition, they will evaluate how the aging of the immune system affects the creation of an effective protective immune response. The results of this research will allow clinical decisions to be made, such as establishing a vaccination schedule based on the immune response.
Up to now, the studies have shown that the immune response against SARS-CoV-2 is maintained during a minimum of one year after the infection. However, most of the studies have been done on people under 65 years of age. “In the case of elderly people, the immune system is weak and this protective response to be less efficient and longer-lasting”, explains Marta Massanella, principal investigator of the group of Translational Research in Immunology and Envelopement (TRIA) of IrsiCaixa . The enhancement of the immune system that Massanella comments is based on immuno-senescence, a process that patents the cells of the immune system with both years and that reduces the severe efficiency at the time of fighting pathogens.
The response of a weakened immune System
The SARS-CoV-2 infection or vaccine activates our body’s defenses against the virus. This response consists, among others, in the activation of the B and T cells of the immune system, which will produce antibodies to prevent new infections and eliminate the infected cells, respectively. “The function of these cells in the elderly is not as effective. That is why we want to characterize the immune response of this group once they have been vaccinated, or after they have passed the infection naturally and with different levels of severity “, details Massanella. “Specifically, we want to determine the level and quality of the response,” she adds.
“The samples that we take from the elderly in the residences will be used to evaluate the amount and effectiveness of the antibodies generated, the cellular immune response and the level of cytokines produced, which are molecules associated with inflammation,” explains Macedonia Trigueros, a predoctoral researcher at IrsiCaixa.
To determine how long protection lasts
Another objective of the study is to understand the duration of the protective effect of the immune system after being vaccinated or passing COVID-19. “This information will allow increasing the knowledge regarding the duration of the parameters related to immunity, which will allow deciding if it is necessary to adjust the vaccination calendar”, explains Nuria Prat, director of the North Metropolitan Primary Care of the Catalan Institute of Health.
“For older adults, vaccination is especially important, since it serves to prevent infection and, therefore, avoid serious cases, very common in people over 65 years of age. Being able to vaccinate this group has allowed the situation in residences to improve a lot “, adds Dolores Palacín, coordinator of the operative part of the study, of the North Metropolitan Primary Care of the ICS.