Coronavirus – Disease, Medical Sciences Involved & Preventive Measures

What is Immune Imprinting?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Immune Imprinting

Mains level: NA

A slew of recent studies has shown that a phenomenon in our bodies, called immune imprinting, might be making new boosters vaccines far less effective than expected for coronavirus infection.

What is Immune Imprinting?

  • Immune imprinting is a tendency of the body to repeat its immune response based on the first variant it encountered.
  • Our body does this through infection or vaccination — when it comes across a newer or slightly different variant of the same pathogen.
  • The phenomenon was first observed in 1947, when scientists noted that “people who had previously had flu, and were then vaccinated against the current circulating strain, produced antibodies against the first strain.
  • At the time, it was termed the ‘original antigenic sin’ but today, it’s commonly known as imprinting.

How imprinting works for immune system?

  • Imprinting acts as a database for the immune system, helping it put up a better response to repeat infections.
  • After our body is exposed to a virus for the first time, it produces memory B cells that circulate in the bloodstream and quickly produce antibodies whenever the same strain of the virus infects again.
  • The problem occurs when a similar, not identical, variant of the virus is encountered by the body.
  • In such cases, the immune system, rather than generating new B cells, activates memory B cells.
  • This in turn produce antibodies that bind to features found in both the old and new strains, known as cross-reactive antibodies.

Are the booster doses completely useless?

  • These cross-reactive antibodies do offer some protection against the new strain,.
  • However they are not as effective as the ones produced by the B cells when the body first came across the original virus.

How to circumvent immune imprinting?

  • Currently, several ongoing studies are trying to find a way to deal with imprinting.
  • Some scientists have said nasal vaccines might be better at preventing infections than injected ones.
  • They believe the mucous membranes would create stronger protection, despite carrying some imprint of past exposure.
  • Researchers are also trying to find if spacing out coronavirus vaccine shots on an annual basis, could help with the problem of imprinting.


Crack Prelims 2023! Talk to our Rankers

(Click) FREE 1-to-1 on-call Mentorship by IAS-IPS officers | Discuss doubts, strategy, sources, and more

Get an IAS/IPS ranker as your 1: 1 personal mentor for UPSC 2024

Attend Now

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments


Join us across Social Media platforms.

💥Mentorship New Batch Launch
💥Mentorship New Batch Launch