KARE 11’s Chris Hrapsky explains how booster shots are fighting COVID-19.
MINNEAPOLIS – Your immune system has a memory, much like your brain’s memory.
“The way I explain it to people, the first time you meet someone, you may or may not remember it,” said Dr Abinash Virk, infectious disease specialist at the Mayo Clinic. “The second time you meet them, you probably remember their name because you remember something about them.”
However, you first shake hands with the virus – whether through infection or through the vaccine – your body makes B cells that start making antibodies.
So for weeks or months your antibodies are all over the place. They are abundant and ready to face the virus. Over time, the antibodies fall off. Research has shown this to be about 6 months after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
With nothing to fight off, your body goes into rescue mode just so it knows what has worked against the virus in the past.
The first part of the backup system is called memory B cells. They act like room monitors – monitoring your blood for potentially COVID bad guys for decades. The other backup part is plasma cells – they hang around in your bone marrow – they too make antibodies at low levels, again often for decades.
Now come the booster shots.
When you get it, the engine will restart. Memory B cells provide another store of antibodies over several months.
But something else that’s pretty cool is happening.
Your system also makes another batch of these cells in save mode – these B memory and plasma cells.
“There is some evidence that the more you are exposed to the antigen, the more likely you are to produce these very long-lived plasma cells,” said Marc Jenkins, director of immunology at the School of Medicine. University of Minnesota.
This means that your long-term protection improves and can react even faster if you encounter the virus again.