The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) spike protein substitution D614G became dominant during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic1,2. However, the effect of this variant on viral spread and vaccine efficacy remains to be defined. Here we engineered the spike D614G substitution in the USA-WA1/2020 SARS-CoV-2 strain, and found that it enhances viral replication in human lung epithelial cells and primary human airway tissues by increasing the infectivity and stability of virions. Hamsters infected with SARS-CoV-2 expressing spike(D614G) (G614 virus) produced higher infectious titres in nasal washes and the trachea, but not in the lungs, supporting clinical evidence showing that the mutation enhances viral loads in the upper respiratory tract of COVID-19 patients and may increase transmission. Sera from hamsters infected with D614 virus exhibit modestly higher neutralization titres against G614 virus than against D614 virus, suggesting that the mutation is unlikely to reduce the ability of vaccines in clinical trials to protect against COVID-19, and that therapeutic antibodies should be tested against the circulating G614 virus. Together with clinical findings, our work underscores the importance of this variant in viral spread and its implications for vaccine efficacy and antibody therapy.