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This research has not been peer-reviewed, and has been posted on pre-print repository medRxiv. This is a preliminary report that should not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behaviour, or be reported in news media as established information.
Accurate assessment of SARS-CoV-2 immunity in the population is critical to evaluating vaccine efficacy and devising public health policies. Whilst the exact nature of effective immunity remains incompletely defined, SARS-CoV-2-specific T cell responses are a critical feature of the immune response that will likely form a key correlate of protection against COVID-19. Here, we developed and optimised a high-throughput whole blood-based assay to determine the T cell response associated with prior SARS-CoV-2 infection and/or vaccination amongst 156 healthy donors and 67 cancer patients. Following overnight in vitro stimulation with SARS-CoV-2-specific peptides, blood plasma samples were harvested and analysed for TH1-type effector cytokines (IFN-γ and IL-2). Amongst healthy donors, highly significant differential IFN-γ+/IL-2+ SARS-CoV-2-specific T cell responses were seen amongst vaccinated or previously infected COVID-19-positive individuals in comparison to unknown/naïve individuals (P < 0.0001). IL-2 production from T cells in response to SARS-CoV-2 derived antigens was a highly predictive diagnostic assay (P < 0.0001; 96.0% sensitivity, 93.9% specificity); measurement of IFN-γ+ SARS-CoV-2 specific T cell responses was equally effective at identifying asymptomatic (antibody and T cell positive) participants. A single dose of COVID-19 vaccine induced IFN-γ and/or IL-2 SARS-CoV-2-specific T cell responses in 28/29 (96.6%) of healthy donors, reducing significantly to 27/56 (48.2%) when measured in cancer patients (P = 0.0003). Overall, this cost-effective standardisable test ensures accurate and comparable assessments of SARS-CoV-2-specific T cell responses amenable to widespread population immunity testing.