Previous immunity shapes immune responses to SARS-CoV-2 booster vaccination and Omicron breakthrough infection risk

Nat Commun. 2023 Sep 12;14(1):5624. doi: 10.1038/s41467-023-41342-2.


The heterogeneity of the SARS-CoV-2 immune responses has become considerably more complex over time and diverse immune imprinting is observed in vaccinated individuals. Despite vaccination, following the emergence of the Omicron variant, some individuals appear more susceptible to primary infections and reinfections than others, underscoring the need to elucidate how immune responses are influenced by previous infections and vaccination. IgG, IgA, neutralizing antibodies and T-cell immune responses in 1,325 individuals (955 of which were infection-naive) were investigated before and after three doses of the BNT162b2 vaccine, examining their relation to breakthrough infections and immune imprinting in the context of Omicron. Our study shows that both humoral and cellular responses following vaccination were generally higher after SARS-CoV-2 infection compared to infection-naive. Notably, viral exposure before vaccination was crucial to achieving a robust IgA response. Individuals with lower IgG, IgA, and neutralizing antibody responses postvaccination had a significantly higher risk of reinfection and future Omicron infections. This was not observed for T-cell responses. A primary infection before Omicron and subsequent reinfection with Omicron dampened the humoral and cellular responses compared to a primary Omicron infection, consistent with immune imprinting. These results underscore the significant impact of hybrid immunity for immune responses in general, particularly for IgA responses even after revaccination, and the importance of robust humoral responses in preventing future infections.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Neutralizing
  • BNT162 Vaccine
  • Breakthrough Infections*
  • COVID-19* / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Immunity
  • Immunoglobulin A
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Reinfection
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Vaccination


  • BNT162 Vaccine
  • Antibodies, Neutralizing
  • Immunoglobulin A
  • Immunoglobulin G

Supplementary concepts

  • SARS-CoV-2 variants

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.23671431