The mRNA vaccines used against COVID were never designed to battle the omicron variant, a now dominant strain of the coronavirus that recently claimed 18,000 lives in a single week.
Scientists from Rockefeller University found that people who receive their third dose appear to be protected from the worst of omicron.
The research is published in Nature and was conducted by Theodora Hatziioannou et al.
Scientists had reason to hope that COVID vaccines would give rise to antibodies that provide long-term protection and fight off new variants.
Vaccines against smallpox and Spanish flu are thought to have induced decades-long immunity, preventing severe disease for a lifetime.
But initial studies of how mRNA vaccines impacted the memory compartment were disappointing.
While infection with the virus stoked a strong memory B cell response among survivors, featuring antibodies that continued to evolve for a year after infection, early studies suggested that antibodies in vaccinated-only individuals might not evolve to the same degree.
Such muted memory B cell responses would leave the inoculated more vulnerable to variants.
In the study, the team analyzed blood samples from patients who received a booster.
They found 30 to 200-fold increases in neutralizing activity against omicron—evidence that vaccination was, at last, producing robust and flexible antibodies.
They found that more than 50 percent of the memory antibodies present after the third dose neutralized omicron.
The team says although the second dose produced more versatile antibodies than the first dose, it was not until the third dose that the memory compartment truly came into its own.
The third dose has a global effect, producing the strongest and broadest antibodies.
With the third dose, the researchers saw not only increased production of mature antibodies but also antibodies that were not visible after the second dose.
The main takeaway is that a third dose is a key to strengthening the immune system and preventing serious infection.
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