Contributing to research themes:
Most studies of immunity to SARS-CoV-2 focus on circulating antibody, giving limited insights into mucosal defences that prevent viral replication and onward transmission. We studied nasal and plasma antibody responses one year after hospitalisation for COVID-19, including a period when SARS-CoV-2 vaccination was introduced.
In this follow up study, plasma and nasosorption samples were prospectively collected from 446 adults hospitalised for COVID-19 between February 2020 and March 2021 via the ISARIC4C and PHOSP-COVID consortia. IgA and IgG responses to NP and S of ancestral SARS-CoV-2, Delta and Omicron (BA.1) variants were measured by electrochemiluminescence and compared with plasma neutralisation data.
Strong and consistent nasal anti-NP and anti-S IgA responses were demonstrated, which remained elevated for nine months (p < 0.0001). Nasal and plasma anti-S IgG remained elevated for at least 12 months (p < 0.0001) with plasma neutralising titres that were raised against all variants compared to controls (p < 0.0001). Of 323 with complete data, 307 were vaccinated between 6 and 12 months; coinciding with rises in nasal and plasma IgA and IgG anti-S titres for all SARS-CoV-2 variants, although the change in nasal IgA was minimal (1.46-fold change after 10 months, p = 0.011) and the median remained below the positive threshold determined by pre-pandemic controls. Samples 12 months after admission showed no association between nasal IgA and plasma IgG anti-S responses (R = 0.05, p = 0.18), indicating that nasal IgA responses are distinct from those in plasma and minimally boosted by vaccination.
The decline in nasal IgA responses 9 months after infection and minimal impact of subsequent vaccination may explain the lack of long-lasting nasal defence against reinfection and the limited effects of vaccination on transmission. These findings highlight the need to develop vaccines that enhance nasal immunity.