Authors: Cele S, Gazy I, Jackson L, Hwa SH, Tegally H, Lustig G, Giandhari J, Pillay S, Wilkinson E, Naidoo Y, Karim F, Ganga Y, Khan K, Bernstein M, Balazs AB, Gosnell BI, Hanekom W, Moosa MS; NGS-SA; COMMIT-KZN Team, Lessells R, de Oliveira T, Sigal A.
SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern (VOC) have arisen independently at multiple locations [1, 2] and may reduce the efficacy of current vaccines targeting the spike glycoprotein . Here, using a live virus neutralization assay (LVNA), we compared neutralization of a non-VOC variant versus the 501Y.V2 variant using plasma collected from adults hospitalized with COVID-19 from two South African infection waves, with the second wave dominated by 501Y.V2 infections. Sequencing demonstrated that infections in first wave plasma donors were with viruses harbouring none of the 501Y.V2-defining mutations, except for one with the E484K mutation in the receptor binding domain. 501Y.V2 virus was effectively neutralized by plasma from second wave infections and first wave virus was effectively neutralized by first wave plasma. In cross-neutralization, 501Y.V2 virus was poorly neutralized by first wave plasma, with a 15.1-fold drop relative to 501Y.V2 neutralization by second wave plasma across participants. In contrast, second wave plasma cross-neutralization of first wave virus was more effective, showing only a 2.3-fold decline relative to first wave plasma neutralization of first wave virus. While we only tested one plasma elicited by E484K alone, this potently neutralized both variants. The observed effective neutralization of first wave virus by 501Y.V2 infection elicited plasma provides preliminary evidence that vaccines based on VOC sequences could retain activity against other circulating SARS-CoV-2 lineages.