Your immune system’s ability to combat COVID-19, like any infection, largely depends on its ability to replicate the immune cells effective at destroying the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the disease.
These cloned immune cells cannot be infinitely created.
Scientists from the University of Washington and elsewhere suggest that the body’s ability to create these cloned cells falls off significantly in old age.
This genetically predetermined limit on your immune system may be the key to why COVID-19 has such a devastating effect on the elderly.
The research is published in The Lancet eBioMedicine and was conducted by James Anderson et al.
The average person’s immune system coasts along pretty well despite this limit until about 50 years old.
That’s when enough core immune cells, called T cells, have shortened telomeres and cannot quickly clone themselves through cellular division in big enough numbers to attack and clear the COVID-19 virus, which has the trait of sharply reducing immune cell numbers.
Importantly, telomere lengths are inherited from your parents.
Consequently, there are some differences in these lengths between people at every age as well as how old a person becomes before these lengths are mostly used up.
The key difference between this understanding of aging, which has a threshold for when your immune system has run out of collective telomere length, and the idea that we all age consistently over time is the “most exciting” discovery of his research.
In the study, the team used publicly available data on COVID-19 mortality from the Center for Disease Control and US Census Bureau and studies on telomeres.
They say assembling telomere length information about a person or specific demographic could help doctors know who was less susceptible.
And then they could allocate resources, such as booster shots, according to which populations and individuals may be more susceptible to COVID-19.
The team hopes doctors begin to understand further the immune system and population responses as a part of natural selection.
For more information about COVID, please see recent studies about new COVID vaccine for people with weak immune systems, and results showing exposure to harmless coronaviruses can boost your COVID-19 immunity
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