PREPRINT: Virological and serological kinetics of SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant vaccine-1 breakthrough infections: a multi-center cohort study

Objectives Highly effective vaccines against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) have been developed but variants of concerns (VOCs) with mutations in the spike protein are worrisome, especially B.1.617.2 (Delta) which has rapidly spread across the world. We aim to study if vaccination alters virological and serological kinetics in breakthrough infections.

Methods We conducted a multi-centre retrospective cohort study of patients in Singapore who had received a licensed mRNA vaccine and been admitted to hospital with B.1.617.2 SARS-CoV-2 infection. We compared the clinical features, virological and serological kinetics (anti-nucleocapsid, anti-spike and surrogate virus neutralization titres) between fully vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals.

Results Of 218 individuals with B.1.617.2 infection, 84 had received a mRNA vaccine of which 71 were fully vaccinated, 130 were unvaccinated and 4 received a non-mRNA. Despite significantly older age in the vaccine breakthrough group, the odds of severe COVID-19 requiring oxygen supplementation was significantly lower following vaccination (adjusted odds ratio 0.07 95%CI: 0.015-0.335, p=0.001). PCR cycle threshold (Ct) values were similar between both vaccinated and unvaccinated groups at diagnosis, but viral loads decreased faster in vaccinated individuals. Early, robust boosting of anti-spike protein antibodies was observed in vaccinated patients, however, these titers were significantly lower against B.1.617.2 as compared with the wildtype vaccine strain.

Conclusion The mRNA vaccines are highly effective at preventing symptomatic and severe COVID-19 associated with B.1.617.2 infection. Vaccination is associated with faster decline in viral RNA load and a robust serological response. Vaccination remains a key strategy for control of COVID-19 pandemic.

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