Comparison of the Development of SARS-Coronavirus-2-Specific Cellular Immunity, and Central Memory CD4+ T-Cell Responses Following Infection versus Vaccination

Vaccines (Basel). 2021 Dec 7;9(12):1439. doi: 10.3390/vaccines9121439.


Memory T-cell responses following infection with coronaviruses are reportedly long-lived and provide long-term protection against severe disease. Whether vaccination induces similar long-lived responses is not yet clear since, to date, there are limited data comparing memory CD4+ T-cell responses induced after SARS-CoV-2 infection versus following vaccination with BioNTech/Pfizer BNT162b2. We compared T-cell immune responses over time after infection or vaccination using ELISpot, and memory CD4+ T-cell responses three months after infection/vaccination using activation-induced marker flow cytometric assays. Levels of cytokine-producing T-cells were remarkably stable between three and twelve months after infection, and were comparable to IFNγ+ and IFNγ+IL-2+ T-cell responses but lower than IL-2+ T-cell responses at three months after vaccination. Consistent with this finding, vaccination and infection elicited comparable levels of SARS-CoV-2 specific CD4+ T-cells after three months in addition to comparable proportions of specific central memory CD4+ T-cells. By contrast, the proportions of specific effector memory CD4+ T-cells were significantly lower, whereas specific effector CD4+ T-cells were higher after infection than after vaccination. Our results suggest that T-cell responses-as measured by cytokine expression-and the frequencies of SARS-CoV-2-specific central memory CD4+T-cells-indicative of the formation of the long-lived memory T-cell compartment-are comparably induced after infection and vaccination.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; cellular immunity; memory T-cells; vaccination.