The COVID PROFILE is a study of immunity in people who have recovered from or been exposed to COVID-19. 

The study aims to understand more about the factors that make a person susceptible to coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes COVID-19, and study how that infection builds up a person’s immunity to the virus and for how long that protection lasts.

This study will compare immunity between people who have experienced coronavirus infection and people who have not.


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Why are you conducting a study of people’s immunity to COVID-19?

Our immune system protects us from diseases. When we get infected, our immune system springs into action to start fighting the pathogen so we can overcome and recover from the infection. An effective immune response results in immune memory of the infection. This memory may be short-lived or may last a lifetime. Effective immune memory means that the next time you encounter the same infection, your immune system is ready and armed to make a rapid and large-scale immune assault to block the infection. 

The same happens when people get infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. In most people, the immune system quickly marshals its defences, the symptoms remain modest and clear up quickly, while the infection is eliminated from their bodies. However, in some patients this defence does not work as effectively, and the patient will develop severe disease.

Importantly, we still do not understand what aspects of a person’s immune response result in mild versus severe infection and, critically, we do not know how long COVID-19 immunity lasts and protects people after they have recovered. 

How will this study help us fight COVID-19?

Understanding why some people get severely ill, while others do not, will help us identify biomarkers to predict which people may be at higher risk and need extra help and care. It will also enable us to find new treatments that can help strengthen patients’ immune systems to help them recover faster.

To return to our pre-COVID-19 lives, we need a vaccine that can induce strong and long-lasting protective immune responses. A better knowledge of how immunity to COVID-19 is acquired and how long it is maintained will be essential to developing effective vaccines and determining how best to use them. 

Who can participate in the study?

An infection with COVID-19 changes the immune system. To understand exactly how, we need to study both people who have had COVID-19, as well as their close contacts, who haven’t had COVID-19. This comparison allows us to better identify how immune responses contribute to COVID-19 symptoms, recovery and future protection.

What samples will you be collecting?

We can best study the immune system by looking at white blood cells and antibodies in your blood. The study will therefore collect blood samples several times for 12 months. To find out how the environment in the nose and throat may affect people’s immunity, we will also ask permission to collect nasal swaps and saliva.


Why do you need to study people for 12 months after they have recovered?

In most infections, immunity is strongest at the point of recovery. After that, it starts decreasing. In some infections, such as influenza, immunity rapidly wanes, and people can become re-infected as soon as 6-12 months later. In other infections, such as measles, the protection is life-long and people cannot become reinfected. 

By studying how your immune responses change over the 12 months after you have recovered, we can identify if and how such immune memory is built up and predict how long it may last. 

How is the study conducted under lockdown restrictions?

As it is important to enrol participants, if possible, within 1-2 months of their diagnosis, the study remains operational even when lockdown restrictions are in place.

Arrangements can be made to ensure people participating in the study can do so in a COVID-safe manner.

Why are you also studying people who have not had COVID-19?

An infection with COVID-19 does change the immune system. To understand exactly how, we need to also study how the immune system is prepared to fight infection in people who have never had COVID-19. This comparison allows us to better identify how immune responses contribute to COVID-19 symptoms, recovery and future protection.

I haven’t had COVID-19, can I still participate? 

For this study, we are aiming to work with people who have recovered from COVID-19 and their close contacts. Therefore, if you have a family member or close contact who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and has also enrolled in the study, you can also participate in the study. 

If not, you may still be able to help WEHI's research efforts by volunteering for the Volunteer Blood Donor Registry

Are other studies investigating immunity to COVID-19?

Many scientists around the world are studying immune responses to COVID-19. Our team is working closely with our scientific and clinical colleagues across Australia and internationally to contribute to these efforts. 

How does this study differ from other studies of COVID-19?

Our study differs from most other studies in the breadth and depth of immune factors. Our team of immunologists and infectious disease researchers are conducting multi-level analyses to allow us to look at how the different parts of the immune system combine to respond to COVID-19, in order to gain a better understanding of the factors that lead to people’s risk of contracting the virus and their protection against reinfection. 

Is this study needed now that vaccines are becoming available?

Understanding immunity to coronavirus, how it is established and how long it is protective against new infections and new COVID-19 disease will be critical for vaccination planning strategies, how frequently we may need boosters or re-vaccination, if at all, and to identify vulnerable groups that may need additional vaccination or therapeutic strategies.

Will the study continue if the number of COVID-19 cases is low?

Even if cases in Victoria are low, our study will be of critical importance to understand local immunity to SARS-CoV-2.

We are also conducting studies of samples collected from recovered people around the world, including from high-burden and high-transmission areas where the risk of infection and re-infection is very high.  

Complementing these studies with our local Victorian cohort will tell us the risk of reinfection and how long different aspects of immune protection lasts in different groups of people.

Who is funding COVID PROFILE?

The study is being funded by WEHI, the World Health Organisation’s UNITY study and philanthropic supporters.

The study is not currently funded by any other government, private or industry sources.

Who approved the COVID PROFILE study?

COVID PROFILE has been reviewed and approved by the independent Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) of WEHI and the Melbourne Health HREC. 

COVID PROFILE conforms to the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research.

Are there any risks associated with participation in the study?

The study does not involve any treatment or intervention. We are just following people who have recovered from COVID-19 by collecting and analysing blood samples and nasal swabs, using standard procedures. These collections will be conducted by trained nurses and will involve only mild discomfort for the participant. 

How will you ensure the privacy of participants?

Once samples have been collected, they are coded with a number that cannot be traced to individual participants by the research team. Only the nurse collecting the samples, the project manager and the principal investigators will have access to your personal details. Personal information will be stored in a password protected database.

Can all people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 participate in the study?

We are prioritising participation from people who were diagnosed with COVID-19 in the Greater Melbourne area. 

However, if you live in regional Victoria, please register your interest. We will contact you and may invite you to participate at a later stage.

How can I participate in the study?

Recovered Victorian COVID-19 patients, and their close contacts, who wish to participate in the study can check their eligibility and register their details here. Once you have registered, by providing your contact details, our study team will contact you to further explain the study, discuss your possible participation and answer any questions you may have.

This study is not open to participants outside Victoria.

Can I have details of the study protocols?

We are unable to share the research protocol to ensure research integrity is maintained and to protect participants. However, prior to your consent for participation we will provide you with detailed written information about the study, its objectives and procedures.

Next steps

If you are interested in participating in the COVID PROFILE study please complete our eligibility survey:

Check your eligibility


Further information

Visualisation of SARS-CoV-2

Our researchers are working towards better approaches to diagnose, treat and prevent the spread of coronaviruses, both to address the current COVID-19 global outbreak as well as in preparedness for likely future coronaviral disease outbreaks.

Two researchers in a laboratory smiling at the camera

The COVID PROFILE study will use blood samples from people who have recovered from COVID-19, and their close contacts, to look in detail at how immunity to the disease develops, how long it lasts and what happens when immunity is lost.