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August 26, 2022 6 mins

The fall Covid-19 booster campaign will be upon us soon and how well the new Omicron-specific boosters will work may depend on a phenomenon called “original antigenic sin.”  Since people have been infected, vaccinated, and boosted, people’s immune systems are on different playing fields and your first exposure may play a bigger part in future immune responses.  Carolyn Johnson, science reporter at the Washington Post, joins us for what to know.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
It's Friday August. I'm Oscar Ramires from the Daily Dive
podcast in Los Angeles, and this is reopening America. The
fall COVID nineteen booster campaign will soon be upon us,
and how well the new omicron specific boosters will work
may depend on a phenomenon called original antigenic sin. Since
people have been infected, vaccinated, and boosted, people's immune systems

are in different playing fields, and your first exposure may
play a bigger part in future immune responses. Caroline Johnson,
science reporter at the Washington Post, joins us for What
to Know. Thanks for Johns, Caroline, thanks for having me. Well,
we're gearing up for the fall COVID nineteen booster campaign.
Now what's gonna happen. What's gonna be different with this

these boosters is that they're geared specifically to the omicron
sub variants B A four and b A five that
we're hoping that since those are the dominant strands going
on right now, it will it'll provide better protection for people.
But what an interesting thing that you wrote about a
concept called a ginal antigen sin. Now this is about
basically how well will these new boosters work. It all

really kind of depending on what you've been infected with
before the original coronavirus variant. You know, if you've never
had it and you've just been on vaccinations and boosters,
you know, there's a lot that works, a lot of
questions that go into how will react to these new boosters.
So Caroline tell us a little bit more about this.
So when things started out in in uh, you know,

everyone was kind of on a level playing field. No
one had seen this virus before, and so we were
all kind of just susceptible to it. And like you said,
two and a half years into it, people have been vaccinated,
they've been infected, they've had different variants, and they might
have had different schedules of vaccinations. Think they got boosted once,
maybe none, none times. You know, it's it's all over

the map. And that like sort of texture of prior
immunity is going to affect how well you respond on
to your next shot, or at least influence it. And
there's a huge scientific debate going on about what is
the best way to protect people going forward, and part
of that is the notion original antigenic sin, which has

such an evocative name um and that comes it comes
from it was first observed, and it's sometimes it's called
first flu is forever, which means like the first time
you get infected by flu when you're a little kid,
that shapes and biases your whole response to flu throughout
your life, so you're always kind of like your primary

flu response is driven by that first infection. That doesn't
mean there is no utility to on the contrary to
like getting boosters or that you don't you're defenseless to
the next thing you get infected with if it's a
different strain, But it's just it adds to the kind
of like complexity of how things work. And it also

just I think is a reality check on expectations early on.
And we were so lucky to have super effective vaccines
that were a match to the virus that was circulating
and that provided really good protections. You know, the virus
is evolved and that's all changed. We're never going to
have that scenario again. So the idea like a new
booster will arrive and the pandemic will be completely over.

I mean, the pandemic maybe over, but the virus won't
go away. So it's a cool, weird I mean, theological
concept that's getting like kind of talked about in the
public in a way that is not normal. I mean,
as you said, it has a great name, original antigenic sin.
And so there's two sides of the debate on that, right,
So is it even worth it? Right? I mean, our
bodies are depending on which strain you might have gone,

it's gonna the immune response is gonna gear up towards that.
How beneficial will the new boosters be? The other side
of it is will our bodies create the new memories
for these new strains? If you've had B A four,
b A five, you know, that's kind of your basis,
or the boosters are gonna help you make the memories
your memory cells to fight these off. And that's an

important thing because that could very well happen with a
series of boosters, you know, or as people constantly keep
getting infected, we'll just kind of constantly shore up the
protection to all of these variances as we keep going. Basically,
even if you encounter a virus, it's pretty different than
the first one you you've got infected with or vaccinated against,
which is what's been happening with our comicron infections. It's

a different it's pretty different virus. So even if you
see a kind of a new vis it's related, your
body can kind of take advantage of these memories that
it's they're not a perfect match to the new virus.
There are many places that the you know, these antibodies
that are kind of the front line of defense can

still attach on. So maybe it's not completely blocking the
virus as well, which is why many people may be
still be getting infected um and still having symptoms, but
still giving you that layer of defense that's on just
a fast recall. So that's the good part about it
that like kind of you know, the word sin leads
you to think it's all bad. But right now what

we're seeing is that even though the first iteration of
the vaccine is not a very good match to the
omicron variants that are now circulating, they're still keeping people,
you know, from the worst outcomes fairly well. And the
idea of incorporating the newer variants into the booster is
and we're just beginning to see the evidence, so it's

everything is really happening in real time. But the idea,
the hope, and some of the early evidence is that
if you give it this booster. It broadens that immune
response in the right direction. So we don't know what
the next variant is going to be after b A
five that will become dominant, but it looks as if

you get your immune response kind of broader, not narrower,
if you use these newer variants as the booster. So
we're all like still living through this pandemic. It feels
like it's been forever, but honestly, they have decades of
experience with flu and it's still an imperfect process. So
we're just kind of living through this interesting moment where

we are learning. Caroline Johnson, Science Report at the Washington Post,
thank you very much for joining us, Thanks for having me.
I'm Oscar Ramires and this has been reopening America. Don't
forget that. For today's big news stories, you can check
me out on the Daily Dive podcast every Monday through Friday,
So follow us an I Heeart Radio or wherever you

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