Seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2 IgG antibodies among health care workers prior to vaccine administration in Europe, the USA and East Asia: A systematic review and meta-analysis

EClinicalMedicine. 2021 Mar;33:100770. doi: 10.1016/j.eclinm.2021.100770. Epub 2021 Mar 8.


Background: Knowing the seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2 IgG antibodies across geographic regions before vaccine administration is one key piece of knowledge to achieve herd immunity. While people of all ages, occupations, and communities are at risk of getting infected with SARS-CoV-2, the health care workers (HCWs) are possibly at the highest risk. Most seroprevalence surveys with HCWs conducted worldwide have been limited to Europe, North America, and East Asia. We aimed to understand how the seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2 IgG antibodies varied across these geographic regions among HCWs based on the available evidences.

Methods: By searching through PubMed, ScienceDirect, and Google Scholar databases, eligible studies published from January 1, 2020 to January 15, 2021 were included for the systematic review and meta-analysis. The random-effects model was used to estimate the pooled proportion of IgG seropositive HCWs. Publication bias was assessed by funnel plot and confirmed by Egger's test. Heterogeneity was quantified using I2 statistics. We performed sensitivity analyses based on sample size, diagnostic method and publication status. The study protocol was registered with PROSPERO (CRD42020219086).

Findings: A total of 53 peer-reviewed articles were selected, including 173,353 HCWs (32.7% male) from the United States, ten European, and three East Asian countries. The overall seropositive prevalence rate of IgG antibodies was 8.6% in these regions (95% CI= 7.2-9.9%). Pooled seroprevalence of IgG antibodies was higher in studies conducted in the USA (12.4%, 95% CI= 7.8-17%) than in Europe (7.7%, 95% CI=6.3-9.2%) and East Asia (4.8%, 95% CI=2.9-6.7%). The subgroup study also estimated that male HCWs had 9.4% (95% CI= 7.2-11.6%) IgG seroconversion, and female HCWs had 7.8% (95% CI=5.9-9.7%). The study exhibits a high prevalence of IgG antibodies among HCWs under 40 years in the USA, conversely, it was high in older HCWs (≥40 years of age) in Europe and East Asia. In the months February-April 2020, the estimated pooled seroprevalence was 5.7% (4.0-7.4%) that increased to 8·2% (6.2-10%) in April-May and further to 9.9% (6.9-12.9%) in the May-September time-period.

Interpretation: In the view of all evidence to date, a significant variation in the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in HCWs is observed in regions of Europe, the United States, and East Asia. The patterns of IgG antibodies by time, age, and gender suggest noticeable regional differences in transmission of the virus. Based on the insights driven from the analysis, priority is required for effective vaccination for older HCWs from Europe and East Asia. A considerable high seroprevalence of IgG among HCWs from the USA suggests a high rate of past infection that indicates the need to take adequate measures to prevent hospital spread. Moreover, the seroprevalence trend was not substantially changed after May 2020, suggesting a slow progression of long-term SARS-CoV-2 immunity. Routine testing of HCWs for SARS-CoV-2 should be considered even after the rollout of vaccination to identify the areas of increased transmission.

Funding: None.

Keywords: CI, Confidence Interval; CMI, chemiluminescent microparticle immunoassay; Covid-19; ELISA, Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay; Healthcare workers; IGG, immunoglobulin-g; IGM, immunoglobulin-m; IgG antibodies; P, Proportion/Prevalence; SARS-CoV-2; Seroprevalence.