BACKGROUND: Residents of nursing homes (NH) are at high risk of COVID-19 related morbidity and death and may respond poorly to vaccination because of old age and frequent comorbidities.
METHODS: Seventy-eight residents and 106 staff members, naïve or previously infected with SARS-CoV-2, were recruited in NH in Belgium before immunization with two doses of 30µg BNT162b2 mRNA vaccine at day 0 and day 21. Binding antibodies (Ab) to SARS-CoV-2 receptor binding domain (RBD), spike domains S1 and S2, RBD Ab avidity, and neutralizing Ab against SARS-CoV-2 wild type and B.1.351 were assessed at days 0, 21, 28, and 49.
RESULTS: SARS-CoV-2 naïve residents had lower Ab responses to BNT162b2 mRNA vaccination than naïve staff. These poor responses involved lower levels of IgG to all spike domains, lower avidity of RBD IgG, and lower levels of Ab neutralizing the vaccine strain. No naïve resident had detectable neutralizing Ab to the B.1.351 variant. In contrast, SARS-CoV-2 infected residents had high responses to mRNA vaccination, with Ab levels comparable to infected staff. Cluster analysis revealed that poor vaccine responders not only included naïve residents but also naïve staff, emphasizing the heterogeneity of responses to mRNA vaccination in the general population.
CONCLUSIONS: The poor Ab responses to mRNA vaccination observed in infection naïve residents and in some naïve staff members of NH suggest suboptimal protection against breakthrough infection, especially with variants of concern. These data support the administration of a third dose of mRNA vaccine to further improve protection of NH residents against COVID-19.