Abstract: Reports of waning immunity after COVID-19 vaccination (1-3) have recently led to large booster vaccination campaigns. Previous studies showed that basic immunization with two mRNA vaccine doses elicits a robust spike-specific CD8+ T cell response (4-6). The effect of mRNA booster vaccination on the spike-specific CD8+ T cell response remains, however, unclear. Indeed, very little is known about the efficacy, duration and effects on long-term immunity and recall responses in breakthrough infections. In this study, we show that spike-specific CD8+ T cells are immediately and vigorously activated and expanded in all tested individuals after the 3rd and 4th mRNA vaccine shots. However, this CD8+ T cell boost response is characterized by a steep contraction and lasts only for about 30-60 days compared to a prolonged contraction after natural infection. Booster vaccination did not affect long-term spike-specific CD8+ T cell immunity reflected by a stable stem cell memory pool that already reached maximum frequencies after basic immunization. Accordingly, rapid and full-fledged recall responses of boosted spike-specific CD8+ T cells were detectable after breakthrough infection with delta and omicron. Thus, in addition to the previously reported cross-reactivity (7-12) also a robust activation and effector response determines the efficacy of the CD8+ T cell response targeting emerging variants of concern. Neutralizing antibody responses displayed hardly any boost effect towards omicron, further highlighting the relevance of spike-specific CD8+ T cell immunity. In sum, these data will inform future vaccination strategies facing the next COVID-19 wave expected for late 2022/early 2023.

Journal Link: 10.21203/rs.3.rs-1617057/v1 Journal Link: Publisher Website Journal Link: Download PDF Journal Link: Google Scholar