Anti-nucleocapsid antibodies following SARS-CoV-2 infection in the blinded phase of the mRNA-1273 Covid-19 vaccine efficacy clinical trial

April, 2022

Key Points

Question: Does prior mRNA-1273 vaccination influence anti-nucleocapsid antibody seroconversion and/or seroreversion after SARS-CoV-2 infection?

Findings: Among participants in the mRNA-1273 vaccine efficacy trial with PCR-confirmed Covid-19, antinucleocapsid antibody seroconversion at the time of study unblinding (median 53 days post diagnosis and 149 days post enrollment) occurred in 40% of the mRNA-1273 vaccine recipients vs. 93% of the placebo recipients, a significant difference. Higher SARS-CoV-2 viral copy number upon diagnosis was associated with a greater chance of anti-nucleocapsid antibody seropositivity (odds ratio 1.90 per 1-log increase; 95% confidence interval 1.59, 2.28). All infections analyzed occurred prior to the circulation of delta and omicron viral variants.

Meaning: Conclusions about the prevalence and incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in vaccinated persons based on anti-nucleocapsid antibody assays need to be weighed in the context of these results. 


Importance The performance of immunoassays for determining past SARS-CoV-2 infection, which were developed in unvaccinated individuals, has not been assessed in vaccinated individuals.

Objective To evaluate anti-nucleocapsid antibody (anti-N Ab) seropositivity in mRNA-1273 vaccine efficacy trial participants after SARS-CoV-2 infection during the trial’s blinded phase.

Design Nested analysis in a Phase 3 randomized, placebo-controlled vaccine efficacy trial. Nasopharyngeal swabs for SARS-CoV-2 PCR testing were taken from all participants on Day 1 and Day 29 (vaccination days), and during symptom-prompted illness visits. Serum samples from Days 1, 29, 57, and the Participant Decision Visit (PDV, when participants were informed of treatment assignment, median day 149) were tested for anti-N Abs.

Setting Multicenter, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial at 99 sites in the US.

Participants Trial participants were ≥ 18 years old with no known history of SARS-CoV-2 infection and at appreciable risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection and/or high risk of severe Covid-19. Nested sub-study consists of participants with SARS-CoV-2 infection during the blinded phase of the trial.

Intervention Two mRNA-1273 (Moderna) or Placebo injections, 28 days apart.

Main Outcome and Measure Detection of serum anti-N Abs by the Elecsys (Roche) immunoassay in samples taken at the PDV from participants with SARS-CoV-2 infection during the blinded phase. The hypothesis tested was that mRNA-1273 recipients have different anti-N Ab seroconversion and/or seroreversion profiles after SARS-CoV-2 infection, compared to placebo recipients. The hypothesis was formed during data collection; all main analyses were pre-specified before being conducted.

Results We analyzed data from 1,789 participants (1,298 placebo recipients and 491 vaccine recipients) with SARS-CoV-2 infection during the blinded phase (through March 2021). Among participants with PCR-confirmed Covid-19 illness, seroconversion to anti-N Abs at a median follow up of 53 days post diagnosis occurred in 21/52 (40%) of the mRNA-1273 vaccine recipients vs. 605/648 (93%) of the placebo recipients (p < 0.001). Higher SARS-CoV-2 viral copies at diagnosis was associated with a higher likelihood of anti-N Ab seropositivity (odds ratio 1.90 per 1-log increase; 95% confidence interval 1.59, 2.28).

Conclusions and Relevance As a marker of recent infection, anti-N Abs may have lower sensitivity in mRNA-1273-vaccinated persons who become infected. Vaccination status should be considered when interpreting seroprevalence and seropositivity data based solely on anti-N Ab testing

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