Background: Studies have found different waning rates of neutralising antibodies compared with binding antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 . The impact of neutralising antibody waning rate at the individual patient level on the longevity of immunity remains unknown . We aimed to investigate the peak levels and dynamics of neutralising antibody waning and IgG avidity maturation over time, and correlate this with clinical parameters, cytokines, and T-cell responses .
Methods: We did a longitudinal study of patients who had recovered from COVID-19 up to day 180 post-symptom onset by monitoring changes in neutralising antibody levels using a previously validated surrogate virus neutralisation test . Changes in antibody avidities and other immune markers at different convalescent stages were determined and correlated with clinical features . Using a machine learning algorithm, temporal change in neutralising antibody levels was classified into five groups and used to predict the longevity of neutralising antibody-mediated immunity . Findings: We approached 517 patients for participation in the study, of whom 288 consented for outpatient follow-up and collection of serial blood samples . 164 patients were followed up and had adequate blood samples collected for analysis, with a total of 546 serum samples collected, including 128 blood samples taken up to 180 days post-symptom onset . We identified five distinctive patterns of neutralising antibody dynamics as follows: negative, individuals who did not, at our intervals of sampling, develop neutralising antibodies at the 30% inhibition level (19 [12 %] of 164 patients); rapid waning, individuals who had varying levels of neutralising antibodies from around 20 days after symptom onset, but seroreverted in less than 180 days (44 [27 %] of 164 patients); slow waning, individuals who remained neutralising antibody-positive at 180 days post-symptom onset (52 [29 %] of 164 patients); persistent, although with varying peak neutralising antibody levels, these individuals had minimal neutralising antibody decay (52 [32 %] of 164 patients); and delayed response, a small group that showed an unexpected increase of neutralising antibodies during late convalescence (at 90 or 180 days after symptom onset; three [2 %] of 164 patients). Persistence of neutralising antibodies was associated with disease severity and sustained level of pro-inflammatory cytokines, chemokines, and growth factors . By contrast, T-cell responses were similar among the different neutralising antibody dynamics groups . On the basis of the different decay dynamics, we established a prediction algorithm that revealed a wide range of neutralising antibody longevity, varying from around 40 days to many decades . Interpretation: Neutralising antibody response dynamics in patients who have recovered from COVID-19 vary greatly, and prediction of immune longevity can only be accurately determined at the individual level . Our findings emphasise the importance of public health and social measures in the ongoing pandemic outbreak response, and might have implications for longevity of immunity after vaccination . Funding: National Medical Research Council, Biomedical Research Council, and A * STAR, Singapore.