Humoral immunity to SARS-CoV-2 and seasonal coronaviruses in children and adults in north-eastern France

EBioMedicine. 2021 Aug:70:103495. doi: 10.1016/j.ebiom.2021.103495. Epub 2021 Jul 23.


Background: Children are underrepresented in the COVID-19 pandemic and often experience milder disease than adolescents and adults. Reduced severity is possibly due to recent and more frequent seasonal human coronaviruses (HCoV) infections. We assessed the seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2 and seasonal HCoV specific antibodies in a large cohort in north-eastern France.

Methods: In this cross-sectional seroprevalence study, serum samples were collected from children and adults requiring hospital admission for non-COVID-19 between February and August 2020. Antibody responses to SARS-CoV-2 and seasonal HCoV (229E, HKU1, NL63, OC43) were assessed using a bead-based multiplex assay, Luciferase-Linked ImmunoSorbent Assay, and a pseudotype neutralisation assay.

Findings: In 2,408 individuals, seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2-specific antibodies was 7-8% with three different immunoassays. Antibody levels to seasonal HCoV increased substantially up to the age of 10. Antibody responses in SARS-CoV-2 seropositive individuals were lowest in adults 18-30 years. In SARS-CoV-2 seronegative individuals, we observed cross-reactivity between antibodies to the four HCoV and SARS-CoV-2 Spike. In contrast to other antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, specific antibodies to sub-unit 2 of Spike (S2) in seronegative samples were highest in children. Upon infection with SARS-CoV-2, antibody levels to Spike of betacoronavirus OC43 increased across the whole age spectrum. No SARS-CoV-2 seropositive individuals with low levels of antibodies to seasonal HCoV were observed.

Interpretation: Our findings underline significant cross-reactivity between antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 and seasonal HCoV, but provide no significant evidence for cross-protective immunity to SARS-CoV-2 infection due to a recent seasonal HCoV infection. In particular, across all age groups we did not observe SARS-CoV-2 infected individuals with low levels of antibodies to seasonal HCoV.

Funding: This work was supported by the « URGENCE COVID-19 » fundraising campaign of Institut Pasteur, by the French Government's Investissement d'Avenir program, Laboratoire d'Excellence Integrative Biology of Emerging Infectious Diseases (Grant No. ANR-10-LABX-62-IBEID), and by the REACTing (Research & Action Emerging Infectious Diseases), and by the RECOVER project funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 101003589, and by a grant from LabEx IBEID (ANR-10-LABX-62-IBEID).

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; antibody response; seasonal coronaviruses; sero-epidemiology; seroprevalence.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antibodies, Viral / immunology
  • COVID-19 / immunology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Cross Reactions / immunology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • France
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Humoral / immunology*
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pandemics / prevention & control
  • SARS-CoV-2 / immunology*
  • Seasons
  • Seroepidemiologic Studies
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus / immunology
  • Young Adult


  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus