Oregon Research Trial Finds COVID-19 Post-Infection Immunity in Primates

A new study featuring contributions from the Oregon Health & Science University has found indirect evidence suggesting that humans may develop some post-infection immunity to COVID-19. 

The study involved exposing 9 rhesus macaques to the virus, allowing them to recover, and then exposing them again one month later.  

Describing the effects of this second round of exposure, a recent OPB article notes that “The results were encouraging: the monkeys didn’t get sick.”  

Rhesus macaques were used because their physiology and immune systems are similar to those of humans. According to the study, the primates exhibited modestly decreased appetite and responsiveness suggestive of mild clinical disease, “but fever, weight loss, respiratory distress, and mortality were not observed.” 

Quoted in the OPB article is Jake Estes, one of the study’s OHSU co-authors. According to Estes, the study provides hope that when an individual becomes infected with the COVID-19 virus and recovers, “it is likely that they will not get COVID-19 again.”   

But Estes also stressed that more research will be necessary in order to determine what the results mean for humans infected with the virus: “While these monkeys are a very good approximation of humans, they’re not humans.   

As the study’s report notes, there is currently no conclusive data available on whether humans who have recovered from COVID-19 are protected from re-exposure. Finding answers to this question is important because, as the report puts it, “This is a critical issue with profound implications for vaccine development, public health strategies, antibody-based therapeutics, and epidemiologic modeling of herd immunity. 

By JD Brookbank