Immune durability and protection against SARS-CoV-2 re-infection in Syrian hamsters

Emerg Microbes Infect. 2022 Dec;11(1):1103-1114. doi: 10.1080/22221751.2022.2058419.


Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) has caused a pandemic. As immunity to endemic human coronaviruses (i.e. NL63 or OC43) wanes leading to re-infection, it was unknown if SARS-CoV-2 immunity would also decline permitting repeat infections. Recent case reports confirm previously infected individuals can become re-infected; however, re-infection may be due to heterogeneity in the initial infection or the host immune response, or may be the result of infection with a variant strain that escapes pre-existing immunity. To control these variables, we utilized the Syrian hamster model to evaluate the duration of immunity and susceptibility to re-infection with SARS-CoV-2. Hamsters were given a primary mock or SARS-CoV-2 infection (culture media or 105 TCID50 USA/WA1/2020 isolate, respectively). Mock and SARS-CoV-2 infected hamsters were then given a secondary SARS-CoV-2 infection at 1, 2, 4, or 6 months post-primary infection (n = 14/time point/group). After the primary SARS-CoV-2 infection, hamsters developed anti-spike protein IgG, IgA, and neutralizing antibodies, and these antibodies were maintained for at least 6 months. Upon secondary SARS-CoV-2 challenge, previously SARS-CoV-2 infected animals were protected from weight loss, while all previously mock-infected animals became infected and lost weight. Importantly, despite having high titres of antibodies, one SARS-CoV-2 infected animal re-challenged at 4 months had a breakthrough infection with replicating virus in the upper and lower respiratory tract. These studies demonstrate immunity to SARS-CoV-2 is maintained for 6 months; however, protection may be incomplete and, even in the presence of high antibody titres, previously infected hosts may become re-infected.

Keywords: SARS-CoV-2; antibodies; hamster; immunity; re-infection.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Neutralizing
  • Antibodies, Viral
  • COVID-19*
  • Cricetinae
  • Mesocricetus
  • Reinfection
  • SARS-CoV-2


  • Antibodies, Neutralizing
  • Antibodies, Viral