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Breakthrough infections elicit similar immune response to getting a booster shot, UW study suggests

The study found people who were vaccinated after getting COVID-19, those with breakthrough infections and those with booster shots all had similar immune responses.

SEATTLE — Getting a booster shot and having a breakthrough COVID-19 case elicit similar immune responses, a new study by researchers from the University of Washington suggests.

The study led by Alexandra Walls and David Veesler from the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Washington set out to examine the strength of antibody responses in people who have had breakthrough infections of COVID-19.

Researchers learned the degree of antibody response depended on how many times a person has been exposed to the spike protein of COVID-19, whether through infection, vaccination or a mixture of the two. 

Scientists checked the antibody responses in individuals who were vaccinated and got a breakthrough infection, people who had two shots of the COVID-19 vaccine and people who had gotten a COVID-19 booster shot. 

Researchers found those who had gotten a booster shot, those who had gotten a breakthrough case and those who were fully vaccinated after recovering from COVID-19 all had similar antibody responses. 

The antibody responses of people in the three groups were much more "potent and lasting" than in those who had only gotten two shots, or who were previously infected but did not get vaccinated. 

The study groups consisted of about 15 people, from the Hospitalized or Ambulatory Adults with Respiratory Viral Infections, or HAARVI, project at the University of Washington in Seattle. 

HAARVI looks at recovered COVID-19 patients to study immune responses over time, to understand the long-term consequences of the infection and to compare immune responses from vaccines and natural infections.