A stack of syringes.

Are more powerful vaccines coming? Shots targeting T cells show promise

Early trials suggest vaccines that activate these immune cells work better and faster and may protect people with weakened immune systems.

By Priyanka Runwal, National Geographic

COVID-19 vaccines do a great job preventing severe disease in most people, but they don’t work well for those with a severely compromised immune system.

In healthy people, the current vaccines work by triggering the production of antibodies that bind to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, preventing it from infecting healthy cells. But for people with fewer antibodies—including patients with blood cancers or taking medications that suppress their immune response—the body’s response is less effective.

Jonas Heitmann, a hematologist and oncologist at the University Hospital Tübingen in Germany, recognized that many of his cancer patients were at high risk of COVID-19 and knew they needed a different type of vaccine. Heitmann and other researcher have shown that immune cells called T cells that boost the body’s immune response and kill SARS-CoV-2-infected cells were able to step up when the supply of antibodies was limited.

Now, he and his colleagues have developed a vaccine that specifically activates T cells, which they are testing in clinical trials in Germany. Read more …