Neutralizing antibodies correlate with protection from SARS-CoV-2 in humans during a fishery vessel outbreak with high attack rate

August, 2020


The development of vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 would be greatly facilitated by the identification of immunological correlates of protection in humans. However, to date, studies on protective immunity have only been performed in animal models and correlates of protection have not been established in humans. Here, we describe an outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 on a fishing vessel associated with a high attack rate. Predeparture serological and viral RT-PCR testing along with repeat testing after return to shore was available for 120 of the 122 persons on board over a median follow-up of 32.5 days (range 18.8 to 50.5 days). A total of 104 individuals had an RT-PCR positive viral test with Ct <35 or seroconverted during the follow-up period, yielding an attack rate on board of 85.2% (104/122 individuals). Metagenomic sequencing of 39 viral genomes suggested the outbreak originated largely from a single viral clade. Only three crewmembers tested seropositive prior to the boat's departure in initial serological screening and also had neutralizing and spike-reactive antibodies in follow-up assays. None of these crewmembers with neutralizing antibody titers showed evidence of bona fide viral infection or experienced any symptoms during the viral outbreak. Therefore, the presence of neutralizing antibodies from prior infection was significantly associated with protection against re-infection (Fisher's exact test, p=0.002).

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