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PubMed; 2021.
Preprint in English | PubMed | ID: ppcovidwho-296584


The emergence of the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant, first identified in South Africa, may compromise the ability of vaccine and previous infection (1) elicited immunity to protect against new infection. Here we investigated whether Omicron escapes antibody neutralization elicited by the Pfizer BNT162b2 mRNA vaccine in people who were vaccinated only or vaccinated and previously infected. We also investigated whether the virus still requires binding to the ACE2 receptor to infect cells. We isolated and sequence confirmed live Omicron virus from an infected person in South Africa. We then compared neutralization of this virus relative to an ancestral SARS-CoV-2 strain with the D614G mutation. Neutralization was by blood plasma from South African BNT162b2 vaccinated individuals. We observed that Omicron still required the ACE2 receptor to infect but had extensive escape of Pfizer elicited neutralization. However, 5 out of 6 of the previously infected, Pfizer vaccinated individuals, all of them with high neutralization of D614G virus, showed residual neutralization at levels expected to confer protection from infection and severe disease (2). While vaccine effectiveness against Omicron is still to be determined, these data support the notion that high neutralization capacity elicited by a combination of infection and vaccination, and possibly by boosting, could maintain reasonable effectiveness against Omicron. If neutralization capacity is lower or wanes with time, protection against infection is likely to be low. However, protection against severe disease, requiring lower neutralization levels and involving T cell immunity, would likely be maintained.

Viruses ; 13(5):28, 2021.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: covidwho-1208416


The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all individuals across the globe in some way. Despite large numbers of reported seroprevalence studies, there remains a limited understanding of how the magnitude and epitope utilization of the humoral immune response to SARS-CoV-2 viral anti-gens varies within populations following natural infection. Here, we designed a quantitative, multi-epitope protein microarray comprising various nucleocapsid protein structural motifs, including two structural domains and three intrinsically disordered regions. Quantitative data from the microarray provided complete differentiation between cases and pre-pandemic controls (100% sensitivity and specificity) in a case-control cohort (n = 100). We then assessed the influence of disease severity, age, and ethnicity on the strength and breadth of the humoral response in a multi-ethnic cohort (n = 138). As expected, patients with severe disease showed significantly higher antibody titers and interestingly also had significantly broader epitope coverage. A significant increase in antibody titer and epitope coverage was observed with increasing age, in both mild and severe disease, which is promising for vaccine efficacy in older individuals. Additionally, we observed significant differences in the breadth and strength of the humoral immune response in relation to ethnicity, which may reflect differences in genetic and lifestyle factors. Furthermore, our data enabled localization of the immuno-dominant epitope to the C-terminal structural domain of the viral nucleocapsid protein in two independent cohorts. Overall, we have designed, validated, and tested an advanced serological assay that enables accurate quantitation of the humoral response post natural infection and that has revealed unexpected differences in the magnitude and epitope utilization within a population.

S Afr Med J ; 110(9): 837-841, 2020 07 27.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: covidwho-743526


The potential role for serological tests in the current COVID-19 pandemic has generated very considerable recent interest across many sectors worldwide, inter alia pathologists seeking additional weapons for their armoury of diagnostic tests; epidemiologists seeking tools to gain seroprevalence data that will inform improved models of the spread of disease; research scientists seeking tools to study the natural history of COVID-19 disease; vaccine developers seeking tools to assess vaccine efficacy in clinical trials; and companies and governments seeking tools to aid return-to-work decision-making. However, much of the local debate to date has centred on questions surrounding whether regulatory approval processes are limiting access to serological tests, and has not paused to consider the intrinsically limiting impact of underlying fundamental biology and immunology on where and how different COVID-19 serological tests can usefully be deployed in the response to the current pandemic. We review, from an immunological perspective, recent experimental evidence on the time-dependency of adaptive immune responses following SARS-CoV-2 infection and the impact of this on the sensitivity and specificity of COVID-19 antibody tests made at different time points post infection. We interpret this scientific evidence in terms of mooted clinical applications for current COVID-19 antibody tests in identifying acute infections, in confirming recent or past infections at the individual and population level, and in detecting re-infection and protective immunity. We conclude with guidance on where current COVID-19 antibody tests can make a genuine impact in the pandemic.

Antibodies, Viral/immunology , Betacoronavirus/immunology , Clinical Laboratory Techniques , Coronavirus Infections/diagnosis , Pneumonia, Viral/diagnosis , Adaptive Immunity/immunology , COVID-19 , COVID-19 Testing , Coronavirus Infections/immunology , Humans , Pandemics , Pneumonia, Viral/immunology , SARS-CoV-2 , Sensitivity and Specificity , Time Factors