Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) binding antibody (Ab) levels following vaccination or natural infection could be used as a surrogate for immune protection if results of serological assays were standardized to yield quantitative results using an international standard. Using a bead-based serological assay (Luminex xMAP), anti-receptor binding domain (anti-RBD) Ab levels were determined for 1,450 participants enrolled in the Los Angeles Pandemic Surveillance Cohort (LAPSC) study. For 123 participants, SARS-CoV-2 binding antibody unit (BAU) levels were also quantified using WHO standards and then compared to the semiquantitative results. Samples were chosen to represent the range of results and time from vaccination. Antibody levels and decay rates were then compared using unadjusted and adjusted linear regression models. The linear range of the assay used in this study was determined to be 300 to 5,000 mean fluorescence intensity units (MFI). Among the fully vaccinated groups (vaccinated only and vaccinated with past infection), 84.8% had anti-RBD MFI values above the linear range of >5,000 MFI, and 33.8% had values of >15,000 MFI. Among vaccinated participants with past infection (hybrid immunity), 97% had anti-RBD values of >5,000 MFI and 70% (120/171) had anti-RBD values of >15,000 MFI. In the subgroup quantified using the WHO control, BAU levels were significantly higher than the semiquantitative MFI results. In vaccinated participants, Ab decay levels were similar between infected and noninfected groups (P = 0.337). These results demonstrate that accurate quantitation is possible if standardized with an international standard. BAU can then be compared over time or between subjects and would be useful in clinical decision making.
IMPORTANCE Accurate quantification of SARS-CoV-2-specific antibodies can be achieved using a universal standard with sample dilution within the linear range. With hybrid immunity being now common, it is critical to use protocols adapted to high Ab levels to standardize serological results. We validated this approach with the Los Angeles Pandemic Surveillance Cohort by comparing the antibody decay rates in vaccinated participants and vaccinated infected participants.
The full study can be viewed at Microbiology Spectrum.
Pernet, O., Balog, S., Kawaguchi, E. S., Lam, C. N., Anthony, P., Simon, P., … & Kovacs, A. (2023). Quantification of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 Binding Antibody Levels To Assess Infection and Vaccine-Induced Immunity Using WHO Standards. Microbiology Spectrum, e03709-22.