Persistence of anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies: immunoassay heterogeneity and implications for serosurveillance

Clin Microbiol Infect. 2021 Nov;27(11):1695.e7-1695.e12. doi: 10.1016/j.cmi.2021.06.040. Epub 2021 Jul 7.


Objectives: Serological studies have been critical in tracking the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic. Data on anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies persistence remain sparse, especially from infected individuals with few to no symptoms. The objective of the study was to quantify the sensitivity for detecting historic SARS-CoV-2 infections as a function of time since infection for three commercially available SARS-CoV-2 immunoassays and to explore the implications of decaying immunoassay sensitivity in estimating seroprevalence.

Methods: We followed a cohort of mostly mild/asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2-infected individuals (n = 354) at least 8 months after their presumed infection date and tested their serum for anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies with three commercially available assays: Roche-N, Roche-RBD and EuroImmun-S1. We developed a latent class statistical model to infer the specificity and time-varying sensitivity of each assay and show through simulations how inappropriately accounting for test performance can lead to biased serosurvey estimates.

Results: Antibodies were detected at follow-up in 74-100% of participants, depending on immunoassays. Both Roche assays maintain high sensitivity, with the EuroImmun assay missing 40% of infections after 9 months. Simulations reveal that without appropriate adjustment for time-varying assay sensitivity, seroprevalence surveys may underestimate infection rates.

Discussion: Antibodies persist for at least 8 months after infection in a cohort of mildly infected individuals with detection depending on assay choice. Appropriate assay performance adjustment is important for the interpretation of serological studies in the case of diminishing sensitivity after infection.

Keywords: Latent class model; SARS-CoV-2; Seroepidemiology; Seroprevalence; Serosurveillance.

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Viral / blood*
  • COVID-19* / diagnosis
  • COVID-19* / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunoassay
  • Pandemics
  • SARS-CoV-2* / immunology
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Seroepidemiologic Studies


  • Antibodies, Viral