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Chilean scientists seek to improve the efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccine through intestinal bacteria


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Bacteria Help Improve Coronavirus Vaccine Efficacy? Chilean researchers will seek to relate the role of bacterial flora in older adults and how their immune system responds to external pathogens.

It is no secret that the elderly population has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic. In fact, they are a priority in the vaccination process against Covid-19. But how can the effectiveness of inoculation be verified in this age range? A couple of Chilean scientists set out to investigate this question, and they believe that bacteria in the gut could have the answer.

Erick Riquelme and Felipe Court, researchers at the Center for Geroscience, Mental Health and Metabolism, and the Center for Integrative Biology of the Universidad Mayor, develop an unpublished study that relates the microbiota of older adults in Chile with the efficacy of the vaccine against the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Why are the elderly the most susceptible to the virus? Basically, as Dr. Riquelme explains, it is because there is a process called "immunosenescence", where the immune system and its ability to respond to pathogens such as coronavirus, is suppressed and its work to defend the body against external agents decreases.

On the other hand, Riquelme affirms that “it is well known that the microbiota - or intestinal flora - has a direct interaction with the immune system. From the time we are born to adult life, it has a participation in the training of the defenses ”. This microbiota, which consists of a set of bacteria that are harmless to the body and that reside in the intestine, send signals to the immune system to keep it active.

The researcher also explains that it is important to understand how the bacterial flora and the immune system communicate to maintain active defenses. This is where the question also arises about the efficacy of vaccines, and why they tend to have a different response in young people and in older adults. "There is a large percentage of the population, and it is not known exactly, that despite being vaccinated, it does not generate enough antibodies," he explains. One of the ways to understand this process will be through the study that doctors Riquelme and Court carry out.

“We want to understand if the microbiota has any relation to this degree of response that is going to be obtained with vaccination against the coronavirus. We can also extrapolate it to other vaccinations such as influenza ”, he adds. In this way, the study will be able to determine how the response of the immune system may be related to the microbiota and the response to vaccination.

How to train the immune system

To carry out this study, the researchers will take blood and stool samples from a group of people between 70 and 90 years old, who do not have autoimmune diseases and who have received the third dose of vaccination against Covid-19. From the blood samples, the antibodies generated with the vaccine can be counted and analyzed, as well as cytokines, which are molecules generated by the immune system in the blood serum itself. While, through the study of the stools it will be possible to understand what bacteria exist in the body of each person, and to know what their distribution is in terms of number and percentage in the sample.

"If the results are satisfactory, the second phase will seek to plan strategies to modify the microbiota through changes in diet, probiotics, caloric restriction and others, in order to activate the immune system in older adults and increase the effectiveness of vaccination" , explains Felipe Court. Given this premise, according to the researchers, it is possible to "train" the bacterial flora so that they can strengthen the immune system, especially in older adults.

The consumption of foods rich in fiber and vegetables helps to increase the quality of these bacteria that help improve the immune system. On the other hand, the indiscriminate consumption of antibiotics generates a loss in this bacterial flora. "If we are a little more successful, we can even design some type of microbial consortium, or probiotic, that we can give to people and that before vaccination strengthen their immune system and improve their response to inoculation", details Riquelme.

This research is one of the six proposals selected by the Global Challenge in Healthy Longevity Contest, of the National Agency for Research and Development (ANID) and the National Academy of Medicine of the United States. During the coming months, both Riquelme and Court will develop this study where they will collect, analyze and seek solutions to improve the effectiveness of vaccines through the bacteria that inhabit our body.


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