The adaptive immune response is a major determinant of the clinical outcome after SARS-CoV-2 infection and underpins vaccine efficacy. T cell responses develop early and correlate with protection but are relatively impaired in severe disease and are associated with intense activation and lymphopenia. A subset of T cells primed against seasonal coronaviruses cross reacts with SARS-CoV-2 and may contribute to clinical protection, particularly in early life. T cell memory encompasses broad recognition of viral proteins, estimated at around 30 epitopes within each individual, and seems to be well sustained so far. This breadth of recognition can limit the impact of individual viral mutations and is likely to underpin protection against severe disease from viral variants, including Omicron. Current COVID-19 vaccines elicit robust T cell responses that likely contribute to remarkable protection against hospitalization or death, and novel or heterologous regimens offer the potential to further enhance cellular responses. T cell immunity plays a central role in the control of SARS-CoV-2 and its importance may have been relatively underestimated thus far.
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