The protective effect of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in Scottish healthcare workers

Hani Abo-Leyah, Stephanie Gallant, Diane Cassidy, Yan Hui Giam, Justin Killick, Beth Marshall, Gordon Hay, Caroline Snowdon, Eleanor J. Hothersall, Thomas Pembridge, Rachel Strachan, Natalie Gallant, Benjamin J. Parcell, Jacob George, Elizabeth Furrie, James D. Chalmers

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Background: Healthcare workers (HCWs) are believed to be at increased risk of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection. It is not known to what extent the natural production of antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 is protective against re-infection.

Methods: A prospective observational study of HCWs in Scotland (UK) from May to September 2020 was performed. The Siemens SARS-CoV-2 total antibody assay was used to establish seroprevalence in this cohort. Controls, matched for age and sex to the general local population, were studied for comparison. New infections (up to 2 December 2020) post antibody testing were recorded to determine whether the presence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies protects against re-infection.

Results: A total of 2063 health and social care workers were recruited for this study. At enrolment, 300 HCWs had a positive antibody test (14.5%). 11 out of 231 control sera tested positive (4.8%). HCWs therefore had an increased likelihood of a positive test (OR 3.4, 95% CI 1.85-6.16; p<0.0001). Dentists were most likely to test positive. 97.3% of patients who had previously tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 by reverse transcriptase (RT)-PCR had positive antibodies. 18.7% had an asymptomatic infection. There were 38 new infections with SARS-CoV-2 in HCWs who were previously antibody negative, and one symptomatic RT-PCR-positive re-infection. The presence of antibodies was therefore associated with an 85% reduced risk of re-infection with SARS-CoV-2 (hazard ratio 0.15, 95% CI 0.06-0.35; p=0.026).

Conclusion: HCWs were three times more likely to test positive for SARS-CoV-2 than the general population. Almost all infected individuals developed an antibody response, which was 85% effective in protecting against re-infection with SARS-CoV-2.

Original languageEnglish
Article number00080-2021
Number of pages18
JournalERJ Open Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jun 2021


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