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Emergence of SARS-CoV-2 Alpha (B.1.1.7) variant, infection rates, antibody seroconversion and seroprevalence rates in secondary school students and staff: active prospective surveillance, December 2020 to March 2021, England

By Shamez Ladhani, Georgina Ireland, Frances Baawuah, Joanne Beckmann, Ifeanyichukwu O Okike, Shazaad Ahmad, Joanna Garstang, Andrew J Brent, Bernadette Brent, Felicity Aiano, Zahin Amin-Chowdhury, Meaghan Kall, Ray Borrow, Ezra Linley, Maria Zambon, John Poh, Lenesha Warrener, Angie Lackenby, Joanna Ellis, Gayatri Amirthalingam, Kevin Brown, Mary E Ramsay

Posted 16 Jul 2021
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.07.14.21260496

Background In England, the rapid spread of the SARS-Cov-2 Alpha (B.1.1.7) variant from November 2020 led to national lockdown, including school closures in January 2021. We assessed SARS-CoV-2 infection, seroprevalence and seroconversion in students and staff when secondary schools reopened in March 2021. Methods Public Health England initiated SARS-CoV-2 surveillance in 18 secondary schools across six regions in September 2020. Participants provided nasal swabs for RT-PCR and blood samples for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies at the beginning (September 2020) and end (December 2020) of the autumn term and at the start of the spring term (March 2021). Findings In March 2021, 1895 participants (1100 students, 795 staff) were tested; 5.6% (61/1094) students and 4.4% (35/792) staff had laboratory-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection between December 2020 and March 2021. Nucleoprotein antibody seroprevalence was 36.3% (370/1018) in students and 31.9% (245/769) in staff, while spike protein antibody prevalence was 39.5% (402/1018) and 59.8% (459/769), respectively, similar to regional community seroprevalence. Between December 2020 and March 2021 (median 15.9 weeks), 14.8% (97/656; 95% CI: 12.2-17.7) students and 10.0% (59/590; 95% CI: 7.7-12.7) staff seroconverted. Weekly seroconversion rates were similar from September to December 2020 (8.0/1000) and from December 2020 to March 2021 (7.9/1000; students: 9.3/1,000; staff: 6.3/1,000). Interpretation By March 2021, a third of secondary school students and staff had serological evidence of prior infection based on N-antibody seropositivity, and an additional third of staff had evidence of vaccine-induced immunity based on S-antibody seropositivity. Further studies are needed to assess the impact of the Delta variant.

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