bioRxiv. 2022 Feb 15:2022.02.14.480394. doi: 10.1101/2022.02.14.480394. Preprint.
The omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 infected very large numbers of SARS-CoV-2 vaccinated and convalescent individuals 1-3 . The penetrance of this variant in the antigen experienced human population can be explained in part by the relatively low levels of plasma neutralizing activity against Omicron in people who were infected or vaccinated with the original Wuhan-Hu-1 strain 4-7 . The 3 rd mRNA vaccine dose produces an initial increase in circulating anti-Omicron neutralizing antibodies, but titers remain 10-20-fold lower than against Wuhan-Hu-1 and are, in many cases, insufficient to prevent infection 7 . Despite the reduced protection from infection, individuals that received 3 doses of an mRNA vaccine were highly protected from the more serious consequences of infection 8 . Here we examine the memory B cell repertoire in a longitudinal cohort of individuals receiving 3 mRNA vaccine doses 9,10 . We find that the 3 rd dose is accompanied by an increase in, and evolution of, anti-receptor binding domain specific memory B cells. The increase is due to expansion of memory B cell clones that were present after the 2 nd vaccine dose as well as the emergence of new clones. The antibodies encoded by these cells showed significantly increased potency and breadth when compared to antibodies obtained after the 2 nd vaccine dose. Notably, the increase in potency was especially evident among newly developing clones of memory cells that differed from the persisting clones in targeting more conserved regions of the RBD. Overall, more than 50% of the analyzed neutralizing antibodies in the memory compartment obtained from individuals receiving a 3 rd mRNA vaccine dose neutralized Omicron. Thus, individuals receiving 3 doses of an mRNA vaccine encoding Wuhan-Hu-1, have a diverse memory B cell repertoire that can respond rapidly and produce antibodies capable of clearing even diversified variants such as Omicron. These data help explain why a 3 rd dose of an mRNA vaccine that was not specifically designed to protect against variants is effective against variant-induced serious disease.