Comparing population-level humoral and cellular immunity to SARS-Cov-2 in Bangalore India

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Two types of immunity, humoral and cellular, offer protection against COVID. Humoral protection, contributed by circulating neutralizing antibodies, can provide immediate protection but decays more quickly than cellular immunity and can lose effectiveness in the face of mutation and drift in the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. Therefore, population-level seroprevalence surveys used to estimate population-level immunity may underestimate the degree to which a population is protected against COVID. In early 2021, before India began its vaccination campaign, we tested for humoral and cellular immunity to SARS-Cov-2 in representative samples of slum and non-slum populations in Bangalore, India. We found that 29.7% of samples (unweighted) had IgG antibodies to the spike protein and 15.5% had neutralizing antibodies, but at up to 46% showed evidence of cellular immunity. We also find that prevalence of cellular immunity is significantly higher in slums than in non-slums. These findings suggest (1) that a significantly larger proportion of the population in Bangalore, India, had cellular immunity to SARS-CoV-2 than had humoral immunity, as measured by serological surveys, and (2) that low socio-economic status communities display higher frequency of cellular immunity, likely because of greater exposure to infection due to population density.

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