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A man in the U.K. was given a COVID-19 vaccine as treatment after he tested positive for the coronavirus for several months.
The vaccine successfully sparked his immune response, marking what is believed to be the first time the shot has been used for treatment instead of prevention. The case study was published in the Journal of Clinical Immunology.
“I was feeling very frustrated and started to doubt I would ever become negative,” Ian Lester, 37, said in a statement.
Lester is a dispensing optician in Wales who has Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, a rare genetic condition that reduces his body’s response to infections. He continued to test positive for COVID-19 for more than 7 months after getting the virus and had waves of symptoms, including chest tightness, insomnia, headaches, poor concentration, and extreme fatigue.
“I began to feel like I was a prisoner in my own home,” he said. “The days blurred into months.”
Doctors at the Immunodeficiency Centre for Wales decided to use two doses of the Pfizer vaccine to treat Lester, and scientists from Cardiff University monitored his immune system’s response. The virus finally cleared from his body.
The vaccine likely kick-started his immune system, according to the doctors, who hope the approach can be used for other patients who have an impaired immune system.
Lester first tested positive in December 2020 and had few symptoms at first, with the most noticeable being a lack of taste and smell. He then told his immunologist, who expressed concerned that people with an impaired immune system could remain contagious for longer than usual. Lester received at-home swab kits to monitor his status. The symptoms slowly became worse over time, he said.
After nearly 5 months, doctors decided to give him the two-dose Pfizer vaccine, with each dose 1 month apart. They saw a strong antibody response and a strong T-cell response. Lester finally tested negative 72 days after the first vaccine dose and 218 days since he first tested positive.
“It was a pretty astonishing moment,” Mark Ponsford, MD, a scientist from Cardiff University’s School of Medicine, said in the statement.
“Importantly, the vaccine was well tolerated by the patient and successfully induced a strong antibody and T-cell response,” he said. “This was remarkable given Ian’s response to conventional vaccinations in the past has been extremely limited.”
The researchers now plan to reproduce the work to confirm the link and determine whether this method could be used for other patients who have an impaired immune system.
“While genetic causes of immunodeficiency are rare, there are many more individuals whose immune system have been suppressed because of their medical conditions and treatments,” Ponsford said. “We should be alert to persistent COVID-19 infection in this setting and develop the tools to respond accordingly.”
Wales Online: “A man in Wales with Covid was given a vaccination as treatment in a world first — and it worked.”
Journal of Clinical Immunology: “Persistent COVID-19 Infection in Wiskott-Aldrich Syndrome Cleared Following Therapeutic Vaccination: a Case Report.”
Cardiff University: “Scientists use vaccination to successfully treat COVID-19 for first time.”
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