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Comparison of SARS-CoV-2 serological assays for use in epidemiological surveillance in Scotland

By Lindsay McDonald, Helen Wise, Frauke Muecksch, Daniel Poston, Sally Mavin, Kate Templeton, Elizabeth Furrie, Claire Richardson, Jacqueline McGuire, Lisa Jarvis, Kristen Malloy, Andrew McAuley, Norah Palmateer, Elizabeth Dickson, Theodora Hatziioannou, Paul Bieniasz, Sara Jenks

Posted 22 Apr 2021
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.04.20.21255596

Background: Sero-surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 is crucial to monitoring levels of population exposure and informing public health responses, but may be influenced by variability in performance between available assays. Methods: Five commercial immunoassays and a neutralising activity assay were used to detect antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 in routine primary care and paediatric samples collected during the first wave of the pandemic in NHS Lothian, Scotland as part of ongoing surveillance efforts. For each assay, sensitivity and specificity was calculated relative to consensus results and neutralising activity. Quantitative correlation was performed between serological and neutralising titres. Results: Seroprevalence ranged from 3.4-7.3 % in primary care patients and 3-5.9 % in paediatric patients according to different immunoassays. Neutralising activity was detectable in 2.8 % and 1.3 % respectively. Relative assay performance changed depending on comparison to immunoassay consensus versus neutralising activity and qualititative versus quantitative agreement. Cross-reactivity with endemic seasonal coronaviruses was confirmed by neutralising assay in false positives for one immunoassay. Presence of false positives for another assay was found specifically in paediatric but not adult samples. Conclusions: Five serological assays show variable accuracy when applied to the general population, impacting seroprevalence estimates. Assay performance may also vary in detection of protective neutralising antibody levels. These aspects should be considered in assay selection and interpretation in epidemiological studies.

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