Background: The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) omicron variant, designated as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization, carries numerous spike mutations that are known to evade neutralizing antibodies elicited by coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines. A deeper understanding of the susceptibility of omicron variant to vaccine-induced neutralizing antibodies is urgently needed for risk assessment.
Methods: Omicron variant strains HKU691 and HKU344-R346K were isolated from patients using TMPRSS2-overexpressing VeroE6 cells. Whole genome sequence was determined using nanopore sequencing. Neutralization susceptibility of ancestral lineage A virus and the omicron, delta and beta variants to sera from 25 BNT162b2 and 25 CoronaVac vaccine recipients was determined using a live virus microneutralization assay.
Results: The omicron variant strain HKU344-R346K has an additional spike R346K mutation, which is present in 8.5% of strains deposited in the GISAID database. Only 20% and 24% of BNT162b2 recipients had detectable neutralizing antibody against the omicron variant HKU691 and HKU344-R346K, respectively, whereas none of the CoronaVac recipients had detectable neutralizing antibody titer against either omicron isolate. For BNT162b2 recipients, the geometric mean neutralization antibody titers (GMTs) of the omicron variant isolates (5.43 and 6.42) were 35.7-39.9-fold lower than that of the ancestral virus (229.4), and the GMTs of both omicron variant isolates were significantly lower than those of the beta and delta variants. There was no significant difference in the GMTs between HKU691 and HKU344-R346K.
Conclusions: Omicron variant escapes neutralizing antibodies elicited by BNT162b2 or CoronaVac. The additional R346K mutation did not affect the neutralization susceptibility. Our data suggest that the omicron variant may be associated with lower COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness.
Keywords: COVID-19 vaccine; SARS-CoV-2; neutralizing antibody; omicron variant; variant of concern.
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