A MAN who tested positive for Covid for seven months has finally been cured after getting the Pfizer vaccine.
Ian Lester, of Pontypridd, Wales, is the world’s first to have been given the jab as a treatment for the bug.
Because he has a rare genetic immunodeficiency, his body found it impossible to shift the virus.
The 37-year-old continued to have positive test results for more than seven months, leaving him a “prisoner in his own home”.
Ian did not have long Covid, whereby someone has persistent symptoms of the virus despite no longer carrying it.
Eventually, scientists at the Immunodeficiency Centre for Wales, based at the University Hospital of Wales (UHW) in Cardiff, decided to use a novel approach.
They used the Pfizer Covid vaccine – which has been given to millions of Brits and others worldwide in order to prevent virus infection – to treat it, instead.
Seventy-two days later, Mr Lester was “over the moon” to finally get a negative test result and be reunited with his friends and family.
“Astonished” by the findings, scientists are now hoping to confirm the link with other patients and see if it can be used more widely.
Prisoner for months
Mr Lester, whose case is outlined in the Journal of Clinical Immunology, said he first caught Covid in December 2020.
He had minimal symptoms, other than loss of taste and smell.
But he said: “My symptoms gradually became worse the longer I had the virus.
“This included extreme fatigue, lack of sleep (borderline insomnia) headaches and chest tightness.
“Each positive Covid swab (every 10-14 days) left me feeling more deflated and anxious.
“I began to feel like I was a prisoner in my own home and the days blurred into months.
“By June 2021, when social gatherings were being allowed again, I was feeling very frustrated and started to doubt I would ever become negative.”
Ian, a dispensing optician, was under the watch of the immunology team at UHW, having been treated there since he was a child.
He has always had Wiskott-Aldrich Syndrome, a rare condition which causes immunodeficiency, meaning his response to infection is weaker than a healthy person.
Ian said: “They were concerned as they suspected people with immune deficiencies could stay contagious for longer than average.
“Although most people are able to stop isolating after 10 days of contracting the virus, I was an exception to the rule.
“Each test came back positive, time and time again.
“Months passed, which felt like a lifetime when you’re not able to go anywhere or see friends or family.”
As Ian’s mental and physical health deroirated, his team at UWH decided to look at other options.
Professor Stephen Jolles, Clinical Lead at the Centre and Honorary Professor at Cardiff University’s School of Medicine, recalled: “We decided on a unique therapeutic approach.
“We wondered whether therapeutic vaccination could help in finally clearing the virus by inducing a strong immune response within the body.”
Ian was given a dose of the Pfizer Covid vaccine, after which there were signals his body was recovering.
However, after “daring to imagine normal life again”, Ian started to test positive for Covid once more.
It wasn’t until the second vaccine shot, 21 days after the first, that Ian could see light at the end of the tunnel.
Ian said: “Eight weeks later I started to get consistent negative COVID results.
“I was over the moon and beyond relieved to finally be negative and get my life back on track.
“I was really lucky to have a strong network of family and friends supporting me, which helped keep me sane.
“Since becoming negative, I have noticed some symptoms of long Covid. But it’s a small price to pay for freedom.
“I’m very grateful for all the help and care from the doctors and nurses in the Immunology Department team at UHW.
“I really felt like they were by my side every step of the way, and happy to listen to my concerns. They went above and beyond for me. I will be forever thankful.”
Prof Jolles said the vaccine very quickly produced a “strong antibody response, much stronger than had been induced by the prolonged natural infection”.
There was also a surge of T cells – the arm of the immune system thought to be crucial to fighting off the virus.
Dr Mark Ponsford, a clinician scientist from Cardiff University’s School of Medicine, said Ian was negative for Covid 72 days after the first vaccination dose, and 218 days since it was first detected.
“It was a pretty astonishing moment,” he said.
“To our knowledge, this is the first time mRNA vaccination has been used to clear persistent Covid-19 infection.
“Importantly, the vaccine was well tolerated by the patient and successfully induced a strong antibody and T-cell response.
“This was remarkable given Ian’s response to conventional vaccinations in the past has been extremely limited.
“Our study is the first to highlight the exciting potential for it to be used as a treatment in persistent infection.
“There are many more individuals whose immune system have been suppressed because of their medical conditions and treatments.”
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