Background: With COVID-19 vaccine roll-out ongoing in many countries globally, monitoring of breakthrough infections is of great importance. Antibodies persist in the blood after a severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection. Since COVID-19 vaccines induce immune response to the Spike protein of the virus, which is the main serosurveillance target to date, alternative targets should be explored to distinguish infection from vaccination. Methods: Multiplex immunoassay data from 1,513 SARS-CoV-2 RT-qPCR-tested individuals (352 positive and 1,161 negative) without COVID-19 vaccination history were used to determine the accuracy of Nucleoprotein-specific immunoglobulin G (IgG) in detecting past SARS-CoV-2 infection. We also described Spike S1 and Nucleoprotein-specific IgG responses in 230 COVID-19 vaccinated individuals (Pfizer/BioNTech). Results: The sensitivity of Nucleoprotein seropositivity was 85% (95% confidence interval: 80-90%) for mild COVID-19 in the first two months following symptom onset. Sensitivity was lower in asymptomatic individuals (67%, 50-81%). Participants who had experienced a SARS-CoV-2 infection up to 11 months preceding vaccination, as assessed by Spike S1 seropositivity or RT-qPCR, produced 2.7-fold higher median levels of IgG to Spike S1 ≥14 days after the first dose as compared to those unexposed to SARS-CoV-2 at ≥7 days after the second dose (p=0.011). Nucleoprotein-specific IgG concentrations were not affected by vaccination in infection-naïve participants. Conclusions: Serological responses to Nucleoprotein may prove helpful in identifying SARS-CoV-2 infections after vaccination. Furthermore, it can help interpret IgG to Spike S1 after COVID-19 vaccination as particularly high responses shortly after vaccination could be explained by prior exposure history.
Available online 9 March 2022