Background The SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant, designated as a Variant of Concern(VOC) by the World Health Organization, carries numerous spike protein mutations which have been found to evade neutralizing antibodies elicited by COVID-19 vaccines. The susceptibility of Omicron variant by vaccine-induced neutralizing antibodies are urgently needed for risk assessment. Methods Omicron variant strains HKU691 and HKU344-R346K were isolated from patients using TMPRSS2-overexpressing VeroE6 cells. Whole genome sequence was determined using nanopore sequencing. Neutralization susceptibility of ancestral lineage A virus and the Omicron, Delta and Beta variants to sera from 25 BNT162b2 and 25 Coronavac vaccine recipients was determined using a live virus microneutralization assay. Results The Omicron variant strain HKU344-R346K has an additional spike R346K mutation, which is present in 8.5% of strains in GISAID database. Only 20% and 24% of BNT162b2 recipients had detectable neutralizing antibody against the Omicron variant HKU691 and HKU344-R346K, respectively, while none of the Coronavac recipients had detectable neutralizing antibody titer against either Omicron isolates. For BNT162b2 recipients, the geometric mean neutralization antibody titers(GMT) of the Omicron variant isolates(5.43 and 6.42) were 35.7-39.9-fold lower than that of the ancestral virus(229.4), and the GMT of both omicron isolates were significantly lower than those of the beta and delta variants. There was no significant difference in the GMT between HKU691 and HKU344-R346K. Conclusions Omicron variant escapes neutralizing antibodies elicited by BNT162b2 or CoronaVac. The additional R346K mutation did not affect the neutralization susceptibility. Our data suggest that the Omicron variant may be associated with lower COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness.
Competing Interest Statement
HC, KYY and KKWT report collaboration with Sinovac and Sinopharm. Other authors declare no conflict of interest.
This study was partly supported by the Health and Medical Research Fund, the Food and Health Bureau, The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (Ref no.: COVID1903010, Project 1), and donations of Richard Yu and Carol Yu, Shaw Foundation Hong Kong, Michael Seak-Kan Tong, May Tam Mak Mei Yin, Lee Wan Keung Charity Foundation Limited, Hong Kong Sanatorium & Hospital, Respiratory Viral Research Foundation Limited, Hui Ming, Hui Hoy and Chow Sin Lan Charity Fund Limited, Chan Yin Chuen Memorial Charitable Foundation, Marina Man-Wai Lee, the Hong Kong Hainan Commercial Association South China Microbiology Research Fund, the Jessie & George Ho Charitable Foundation, Kai Chong Tong, Tse Kam Ming Laurence, Foo Oi Foundation Limited, Betty Hing-Chu Lee, and Ping Cham So.
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Paper in collection COVID-19 SARS-CoV-2 preprints from medRxiv and bioRxiv