Impact of circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants on mRNA vaccine-induced immunity

Nature. 2021 Oct 11. doi: 10.1038/s41586-021-04085-y. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

The emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants with mutations in major neutralizing antibody-binding sites can affect humoral immunity induced by infection or vaccination1-6. We analysed the development of anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibody and T cell responses in previously infected (recovered) or uninfected (naive) individuals that received mRNA vaccines to SARS-CoV-2. While previously infected individuals sustained higher antibody titres than uninfected individuals post-vaccination, the latter reached comparable levels of neutralization responses to the ancestral strain after the second vaccine dose. T cell activation markers measured upon spike or nucleocapsid peptide in vitro stimulation showed a progressive increase after vaccination. Comprehensive analysis of plasma neutralization using 16 authentic isolates of distinct locally circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants revealed a range of reduction in the neutralization capacity associated with specific mutations in the spike gene: lineages with E484K and N501Y/T (e.g., B.1.351 and P.1) had the greatest reduction, followed by lineages with L452R (e.g., B.1.617.2). While both groups retained neutralization capacity against all variants, plasma from previously infected vaccinated individuals displayed overall better neutralization capacity when compared to plasma from uninfected individuals that also received two vaccine doses, pointing to vaccine boosters as a relevant future strategy to alleviate the impact of emerging variants on antibody neutralizing activity.