The Duration, Dynamics, and Determinants of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) Antibody Responses in Individual Healthcare Workers

Clin Infect Dis. 2021 Aug 2;73(3):e699-e709. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciab004.


Background: Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibody measurements can be used to estimate the proportion of a population exposed or infected and may be informative about the risk of future infection. Previous estimates of the duration of antibody responses vary.

Methods: We present 6 months of data from a longitudinal seroprevalence study of 3276 UK healthcare workers (HCWs). Serial measurements of SARS-CoV-2 anti-nucleocapsid and anti-spike IgG were obtained. Interval censored survival analysis was used to investigate the duration of detectable responses. Additionally, Bayesian mixed linear models were used to investigate anti-nucleocapsid waning.

Results: Anti-spike IgG levels remained stably detected after a positive result, for example, in 94% (95% credibility interval [CrI] 91-96%) of HCWs at 180 days. Anti-nucleocapsid IgG levels rose to a peak at 24 (95% CrI 19-31) days post first polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-positive test, before beginning to fall. Considering 452 anti-nucleocapsid seropositive HCWs over a median of 121 days from their maximum positive IgG titer, the mean estimated antibody half-life was 85 (95% CrI 81-90) days. Higher maximum observed anti-nucleocapsid titers were associated with longer estimated antibody half-lives. Increasing age, Asian ethnicity, and prior self-reported symptoms were independently associated with higher maximum anti-nucleocapsid levels and increasing age and a positive PCR test undertaken for symptoms with longer anti-nucleocapsid half-lives.

Conclusions: SARS-CoV-2 anti-nucleocapsid antibodies wane within months and fall faster in younger adults and those without symptoms. However, anti-spike IgG remains stably detected. Ongoing longitudinal studies are required to track the long-term duration of antibody levels and their association with immunity to SARS-CoV-2 reinfection.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; antibody; longitudinal; serology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Antibody Formation
  • Bayes Theorem
  • COVID-19*
  • Health Personnel
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • SARS-CoV-2*
  • Seroepidemiologic Studies


  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Immunoglobulin G