How getting a cold could give protection against Covid

Common colds are rife at this time of year. Scientists have now found catching a cold reduces the severity of the disease if you do get infected. But they insist the protection colds offer against coronavirus doesn’t replace the level of protection offered by vaccines.

Although the severity of the UK’s dominant strain (Omicron) may be less than its predecessor (Delta), case rates and hospitalisations continue to soar.

A staggering 141,472 people tested positive for the virus on January 9 and an alarming 2,434 new patients were admitted to hospital with Covid on January 3.

As the NHS faces growing pressure from Covid-related hospitalisations and staff absences, boosting the UK’s immunity against the virus has never been more important.

Fortunately, the UK’s immunity could be boosted by colds this winter researchers from Imperial College London have found.

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Their new study reveals that for the first time the T cells generated when you catch a cold can help your body to defend itself against Covid.

But they stress the amount of protection changes from one person to the next and this protection is different from that offered by the vaccine.

Researchers insist the extra protection offered by colds merely complements the protection offered by the vaccine and this protection shouldn’t be considered and a viable alternative to the vaccine.

Professor Ajit Lalvani, of Imperial College London, said: “Our study provides the clearest evidence to date that T cells induced by common-cold coronaviruses play a protective role against SARS-CoV-2 infection.

“These T cells provide protection by attacking proteins within the virus, rather than the spike protein on its surface [targeted by vaccines].”

He added: “Being exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus doesn’t always result in infection, and we’ve been keen to understand why.

“We found that high levels of pre-existing T cells, created by the body when infected with other human coronaviruses like the common cold, can protect against Covid-19 infection.

“While this is an important discovery, it’s only one form of protection, and I would stress that no one should rely on this alone. Instead, the best way to protect yourself against Covid-19 is to be fully vaccinated, including getting your booster dose.”

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Why is this study so important?

Although the researchers note the size of the study is relatively small (only 52 people participated), it could be key in the development of future vaccines.

They said it could provide the basis for the development of a vaccine to prevent infections from current and future Covid variants.

Finding a versatile vaccine is essential in the battle against Covid as the virus mutates frequently.

For example, the Delta variant plunged the UK into another lockdown last year, so the development of such a vaccine could help to fight future strains.

The T cells generated by catching a cold target internal proteins within the virus, as opposed to the spike protein on the surface of the virus, which is what the vaccines target.

Current vaccines don’t induce an immune response to these internal proteins, but T cells do.

Therefore, the researchers of this study said using T cells to target internal proteins as well as the spike protein on the surface of the virus from vaccine use could provide long-lasting protection against Covid.

This is because T cell responses last longer than antibody responses, which decline within a few months of vaccination.

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