As the days unfold with a seeming sameness in this odd summer of the pandemic, news of vaccine clinical trials begins to trickle in, and another buzzword from epidemiology is entering the everyday lexicon: durability.
To be successful, a vaccine's protection must last or booster shots periodically restore it. Some vaccines lose efficacy over time, including those for yellow fever, pertussis, and of course influenza.
For some vaccines, antibodies and the B cells that make them persist and protect for a long time. For other infectious diseases, like TB and malaria, T cells are needed in vaccines too. B and T cells (lymphocytes) are types of white blood cells, which are part of the immune system.
Antibody response may be ephemeral
"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime," said Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, founder of Taoism.
Tzu might have been referring metaphorically to the immune system's response to viral infection: an initial rush of antibodies that fades as a longer-lasting cell-based memory builds that primes the body to rapidly release antibodies upon a future encounter with the pathogen.
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