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Previous Infection Combined with Vaccination Produces Neutralizing Antibodies with Potency against SARS-CoV-2 Variants.

  • Author(s): Ibarrondo, F Javier;
  • Hofmann, Christian;
  • Ali, Ayub;
  • Ayoub, Paul;
  • Kohn, Donald B;
  • Yang, Otto O
  • et al.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) continues to evolve in humans. Spike protein mutations increase transmission and potentially evade antibodies raised against the original sequence used in current vaccines. Our evaluation of serum neutralizing activity in both persons soon after SARS-CoV-2 infection (in April 2020 or earlier) or vaccination without prior infection confirmed that common spike mutations can reduce antibody antiviral activity. However, when the persons with prior infection were subsequently vaccinated, their antibodies attained an apparent biologic ceiling of neutralizing potency against all tested variants, equivalent to the original spike sequence. These findings indicate that additional antigenic exposure further improves antibody efficacy against variants. IMPORTANCE As SARS-CoV-2 evolves to become better suited for circulating in humans, mutations have occurred in the spike protein it uses for attaching to cells it infects. Protective antibodies from prior infection or vaccination target the spike protein to interfere with its function. These mutations can reduce the efficacy of antibodies generated against the original spike sequence, raising concerns for reinfections and vaccine failures, because current vaccines contain the original sequence. In this study, we tested antibodies from people infected early in the pandemic (before spike variants started circulating) or people who were vaccinated without prior infection. We confirmed that some mutations reduce the ability of antibodies to neutralize the spike protein, whether the antibodies were from past infection or vaccination. Upon retesting the previously infected persons after vaccination, their antibodies gained the same ability to neutralize mutated spike as the original spike, suggesting that the combination of infection and vaccination drove the production of enhanced antibodies to reach a maximal level of potency. Whether this can be accomplished by vaccination alone remains to be determined, but the results suggest that booster vaccinations may help improve efficacy against spike variants through improving not only antibody quantity, but also quality.

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