Thousands of SpaceX employees took part in a nearly year-long antibody study to track their levels of immunity.
Early in the pandemic, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk recruited Dr. Galit Alter, a member of the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard, to study the virus’ impact on his workforce.
Now Dr. Alter says the study bore some key findings that could impact our vaccine strategy.
The first was that there seems to be a threshold level of antibodies that, once developed, provides sufficient protection against future infections.
“We are seeing these really wildly different levels of antibodies appearing in individuals who are infected in the community that either have no symptoms or might just have very mild symptoms,” she explained. “How do we know if those people are protected, and what is the level of antibody that is essential to provide protection over time? We began to see that there was really a cutoff. There was this unbelievable resolution of the amount of antibodies somebody needed in order to stay safe and to stay uninfected.”
Dr. Alter says her team has not yet defined what that “threshold” level is, but once the level is established that information could be used to determine when people might need to get booster shots for the vaccine.
And it could resolve questions about whether or not people who have been infected with the virus should get both shots of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or if one is sufficient.
“There is actually a level we can measure to decide if maybe somebody who got one shot should get that second shot sooner, and that makes it an incredibly actionable piece of data that can help guide policy and public health intervention.”
Dr. Alter’s findings also add to the growing body of evidence that the vaccine provides a much higher level of protection than natural infection.
While the antibody response from a natural infection vary widely from person to person, “we don’t compare anywhere close to what happens after two shots where you basically just knock the ball out of the park, you get these massive antibody levels that are highly protective.”
Dr. Alter says more research should be done to determine what this antibody threshold is.