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German Man Who Received 217 COVID Vaccines Has Functioning Immune System

A person receiving their vaccine.
Credit: Mathurin NAPOLY / Unsplash.
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Vaccines are a critical public health strategy. They prime the immune system against potentially harmful pathogens and save millions of lives every year.

But can you have too much of a good thing?

Scientists at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU) had the rare opportunity to explore this question in the context of immunization after a 62-year-old male from Magdeburg claimed to have received 217 vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 over 29 months.

There is official evidence for 134 of the vaccinations, which include eight different types of vaccines authorized for human use. The remaining are self-reported.

“We learned about his case via newspaper articles,” said lead study author Privatdozent Dr. Kilian Schober, a group leader in the Institute for Clinical Microbiology, Immunology and Hygiene at FAU.

The public prosecutor of Magdeburg had opened up a case against the gentleman with allegations of fraud, but charges were never filed.

“We then contacted him and invited him to undergo various tests in Erlangen. He was very interested in doing so,” Schober said.

The research team wanted to explore the consequences of hypervaccination, which they suspected would have caused the man’s immune cells to fatigue. Their analysis is published in Lancet Infectious Diseases.

“The individual has undergone various blood tests over recent years,” Schober described. “He gave us his permission to assess the results of these analyses.”

Some of the samples had been frozen, while others were obtained by the researchers during the current study after the gentleman insisted that he had received an additional vaccine.

“We were able to use these samples to determine exactly how the immune system reacts to the vaccination,” said Schober. The researchers used a reference cohort, including 29 vaccinees (55% female, 45% male) that had received a 3-dose mRNA regimen, as a control group.

No indication for a weaker immune response

To the researchers’ surprise, the man’s immune system is fully functional.

He has a large number of T effector cells against SARS-CoV-2 – even more than observed in the control group. These cells did not show any signs of fatigue and were just as effective as cells obtained from the control group.

When Schober and team analyzed the number of memory T cells – a type of immune cell that quickly increases in number upon re-exposure to an antigen – the man had, they found this number was just as high as the control group. His immune cells were also effective against other pathogens.

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Collectively, it seems that hypervaccination has not damaged this man’s immune system. “Overall, we did not find any indication for a weaker immune response, rather the contrary,” said Katharina Kocher, a doctoral researcher and one of the study’s lead authors.

“Our test case was vaccinated with a total of eight different vaccines, including different available mRNA vaccines,” said Schober. “The observation that no noticeable side effects were triggered in spite of this extraordinary hypervaccination indicates that the drugs have a good degree of tolerability.”

As this is a case study, the generalizability of the findings is not clear. Regardless, the scientists explicitly stated that they “do not endorse hypervaccination as a strategy to enhance adaptive immunity.”

Reference: Kocher K, Moosmann C, Drost F, et al. Adaptive immune responses are larger and functionally preserved in a hypervaccinated individual. Lancet Infect Dis. 2024. doi: 10.1016/S1473-3099(24)00134-8

This article is a rework of a press release issued by the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. Material has been edited for length and content.