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Debunked: Yes, coronavirus antibodies protect against 'infection of the lung'

A video shared online claimed that because antibodies produced as a result of the vaccine are in the blood, they don’t protect against Covid infection. This is false.

For debunks

A MISLEADING CLAIM from a retired microbiologist about antibodies and Covid-19 has been shared in a Facebook post in the past week.

Dr Sucharit Bhakdi, who previously worked as a professor in the German University of Mainz, claimed it is “naive” to believe Covid-19 vaccines protect “against infection of the lung”.

He claimed that because Covid-19 is a respiratory disease, and the antibodies created as a result of the vaccine are in the blood, vaccinated people are not protected against infection. 

This is untrue. The coronavirus does not only impact the respiratory tract and antibodies travel to the site of infection to fight illness. 

Dr Bhakdi has been factchecked elsewhere in the past. Teyit, a factcheck organisation based in Turkey, debunked claims he made about the effectiveness of Covid vaccines in reducing deaths. 

The claim 

Facebook post The video shared on a Facebook page.

The claims were shared in Irish circles through a short video posted on a Facebook page called Corruption Awareness Ireland.

The video has been viewed more than 70,000 times and the post has 3,600 likes and more than 500 comments as of publication.

In the video clip, Dr Bhakdi said the coronavirus “doesn’t come into the blood” but rather it “goes into the lung and into the lung cell”. 

He argues that the “antibodies are not there”, they are instead in the blood in a person’s body. 

“It is virtually impossible to prevent an infection that comes from the airway. What you can do after that bug has entered your airway epithelium cell is to prevent it disseminating in the body via the bloodstream.

“This virus does not disseminate in the blood, it kills people because it’s in the lung and because the lung suffers. 

“So how can anyone think that by vaccinating oneself one can be protected against infection of the lung? This is completely naive,” he said.

The evidence

Immunologist at University College Cork, Dr Elizabeth Brint, described Dr Bhakdi’s claim about antibodies and Covid infection as “totally untrue”. 

Covid-19 is a respiratory disease, meaning it impacts the lungs, nose, throat and other parts of the respiratory tract.

However, studies have shown the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus can impact other organs and parts of the body.

A US study published in August last year said the coronavirus “most commonly” affects the respiratory system, but the virus “can affect any organ in the body”. 

“In critically ill patients, multiple organs are often affected,” the study said.

When viruses enter the body, they attack and multiply. The immune system fights back this attack and vaccines help in that fight.

This system is a network of organs, cells and proteins that helps to protect the body against infection.  

Covid vaccines help the immune system to identify the coronavirus and know how to fight it by producing antibodies, which are proteins created after an infection or vaccination.

Antibodies are also created in the immune system after a person is infected with the coronavirus.

Although antibodies are found in the blood, this doesn’t mean they can’t fight infection in organs, such as the lungs or other parts of the respiratory tract. 

Dr Elizabeth Brint said: “Antibodies travel through your blood and lymphatic system and they leave the blood system to fight infection at the site of infection.”

She explained that blood vessels dilate in order to allow cells, including the B cells that produce antibodies, to enter at the infected area.

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B cells are a type of white blood cell that produce antibodies.

B cells originate in bone marrow and they are activated when they encounter invaders such as viruses, including the coronavirus. 

When blood vessels dilate (widen) during an inflammatory response spurred on by an infection, it allows antibodies to enter the tissue to help fight the infection, Dr Brint said.  

This is why it’s untrue to say the antibodies created as a result of Covid-19 vaccination would not protect against infection.

Dr Brint added that “antibodies are really small” and it’s “farcical” to say they wouldn’t have access to organs such as the lungs. 

The first time a body encounters the virus, it needs a lot of tools to attack the virus and get over the infection.

Once the body has come into contact with a virus, it usually stores information about it and knowledge on how to fight it. 

This means that if it comes in contact with the virus again, it recognises what’s happening and can start to fight back faster. This also happens with vaccination.

“When you’re vaccinated, you generate an immune response, and you turn on your B cells that make the right antibody to fight that infection,” she said. 

That B cell population making that one antibody expands, so you have a lot of them for a brief period following vaccination or infection.

“Then because you’re not going to maintain that B cell, you generate a memory B cell and they hang out in your lymph nodes and in certain other areas in the body, and then if you ever get infected again other immune cells will cause that memory B cell to become activated,” she said.

The claim that coronavirus antibodies cannot protect against infection is untrue. Antibodies can travel through the blood system to reach the site of infection.

Further, Covid-19 does not just impact the lungs. It can affect the entire respiratory tract and can also impact many other parts of the body.

The Journal’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here.

You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here Have you gotten a message on WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter that you’re not sure about and want us to check it out? Message or mail us and we’ll look into debunking it. WhatsApp: 085 221 4696 or Email: answers@thejournal.ie  

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