Screening for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in convalescent plasma in Brazil: Preliminary lessons from a voluntary convalescent donor program

Transfusion. 2020 Sep 16. doi: 10.1111/trf.16065. Online ahead of print.


Background: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) convalescent plasma (CCP) collection began in two Brazilian hospitals for treatment of severe/critical patients.

Methods and materials: Mild/moderate COVID-19 convalescents were selected as CCP donors after reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) confirmed severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection and absence of symptoms for ≥14 days plus (a) age (18-60 years), body weight greater than 55 kg; (b) immunohematological studies; (c) no infectious markers of hepatitis B virus, hepatitis C virus, human immunodeficiency virus, human T-lymphotropic virus-1/2, Chagas and syphilis infection; (d) no HLA antibodies (multiparous); (e) second RT-PCR (nasopharyngeal swab and/or blood) negativity; (f) virus neutralization test (cytopathic effect-based virus neutralization test neutralizing antibody) and anti-nucleocapsid protein SARS-CoV-2 IgM, IgG, and IgA enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays.

Results: Among 271 donors (41 females, 230 males), 250 presented with neutralizing antibodies. Final RT-PCR was negative on swab (77.0%) or blood (88.4%; P = .46). Final definition of RT-PCR was only defined at more than 28 days after full recovery in 59 of 174 (33.9%) RT-PCR -ve, and 25/69 RT-PCR +ve (36.2%; 13 between 35 and 48 days). Neutralizing antibody titers of 160 or greater were found in 63.6%. Correlation between IgG signal/cutoff of 5.0 or greater and neutralizing antibody of 160 or greater was 82.4%. Combination of final RT-PCR -ve with neutralizing antibody ≥160 was 41.3% (112/271). Serial plasma collection showed decline in neutralizing antibody titers and IgA levels (P < .05), probably denoting a "golden period" for CCP collection (≤28 days after joining the program); IgA might have an important role as neutralizing antibody. Donor's weight, days between disease onset and serial plasma collection, and IgG and IgM levels are important predictors for neutralizing antibody titer.

Conclusions: RT-PCR +ve cases are still detected in 36.2% within 28 to 48 days after recovery. High anti-nucleocapsid protein IgG levels may be used as a surrogate marker to neutralizing antibody.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-COV-2; coronavirus; convalescent plasma therapy; passive immune therapy.