Abstract

The emergence of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) variants with greater transmissibility or immune evasion properties has jeopardized the existing vaccine and antibody-based countermeasures. Here, we evaluated the efficacy of boosting pre-immune hamsters with protein nanoparticle vaccines (Novavax, Inc.) containing recombinant Prototype (Wuhan-1) or BA.5 S proteins against a challenge with the Omicron BA.5 variant of SARS-CoV-2. Serum antibody binding and neutralization titers were quantified before challenge, and viral loads were measured 3 days after challenge. Boosting with Prototype or BA.5 vaccine induced similar antibody binding responses against ancestral Wuhan-1 or BA.5 S proteins, and neutralizing activity of Omicron BA.1 and BA.5 variants. One and three months after vaccine boosting, hamsters were challenged with the Omicron BA.5 variant. Prototype and BA.5 vaccine-boosted hamsters had reduced viral infection in the nasal washes, nasal turbinates, and lungs compared to unvaccinated animals. Although no significant differences in virus load were detected between the Prototype and BA.5 vaccine-boosted animals, fewer breakthrough infections were detected in the BA.5-vaccinated hamsters. Thus, immunity induced by Prototype or BA.5 S protein nanoparticle vaccine boosting can protect against the Omicron BA.5 variant in the Syrian hamster model. IMPORTANCE As SARS-CoV-2 continues to evolve, there may be a need to update the vaccines to match the newly emerging variants. Here, we compared the protective efficacy of the updated BA.5 and the original Wuhan-1 COVID-19 vaccine against a challenge with the BA.5 Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 in hamsters. Both vaccines induced similar levels of neutralizing antibodies against multiple variants of SARS-CoV-2. One and three months after the final immunization, hamsters were challenged with BA.5. No differences in protection against the BA.5 variant virus were observed between the two vaccines, although fewer breakthrough infections were detected in the BA.5-vaccinated hamsters. Together, our data show that both protein nanoparticle vaccines are effective against the BA.5 variant of SARS-CoV-2 but given the increased number of breakthrough infections and continued evolution, it is important to update the COVID-19 vaccine for long-term protection.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of virology
Volume98
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2024

Keywords

  • Omicron variant
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Syrian hamster
  • nanoparticle vaccine
  • vaccine efficacy

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