Background: Residents of nursing homes (NHs) are at high risk of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)-related disease and death and may respond poorly to vaccination because of old age and frequent comorbid conditions.
Methods: Seventy-eight residents and 106 staff members, naive to infection or previously infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), were recruited in NHs in Belgium before immunization with 2 doses of 30 µg BNT162b2 messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine at days 0 and 21. Binding antibodies (Abs) to SARS-CoV-2 receptor-binding domain (RBD), spike domains S1 and S2, RBD Ab avidity, and neutralizing Abs against SARS-CoV-2 wild type and B.1.351 were assessed at days 0, 21, 28, and 49.
Results: SARS-CoV-2-naive residents had lower Ab responses to BNT162b2 mRNA vaccination than naive staff. These poor responses involved lower levels of immunoglobulin (Ig) G to all spike domains, lower avidity of RBD IgG, and lower levels of Abs neutralizing the vaccine strain. No naive residents had detectable neutralizing Abs to the B.1.351 variant. In contrast, SARS-CoV-2-infected residents had high responses to mRNA vaccination, with Ab levels comparable to those in infected staff. Cluster analysis revealed that poor vaccine responders included not only naive residents but also naive staff, emphasizing the heterogeneity of responses to mRNA vaccination in the general population.
Conclusions: The poor Ab responses to mRNA vaccination observed in infection-naive NH residents and in some naive staff members suggest suboptimal protection against breakthrough infection, especially with variants of concern. These data support the administration of a third dose of mRNA vaccine to further improve protection of NH residents against COVID-19.
Keywords: COVID-19; antibody response; immunosenescence; mRNA vaccination; nursing homes.
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