Dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 exposure in Malawian blood donors: a retrospective seroprevalence analysis between January 2020 and February 2021

Mandolo, J, Msefula, J ORCID: 0000-0002-3997-6102, Henrion, MYR, Brown, C, Moyo, B, Samon, A, Moyo-Gwete, T, Makhado, Z, Ayres, F, Motlou, T
et al (show 13 more authors) (2021) Dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 exposure in Malawian blood donors: a retrospective seroprevalence analysis between January 2020 and February 2021. [Preprint]

Access the full-text of this item by clicking on the Open Access link.


<h4>Background</h4> As at end of July 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic has been less severe in sub-Saharan Africa than elsewhere. In Malawi, there have been two subsequent epidemic waves. We therefore aimed to describe the dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 exposure in Malawi. <h4>Methods</h4> We measured the seroprevalence of anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies among randomly selected blood donor sera in Malawi from January 2020 to February 2021. In a subset, we also assesed in vitro neutralisation against the original variant (D614G WT) and the Beta variant. <h4>Findings</h4> A total of 3586 samples were selected from the blood donor database, of which 2685 (74.9%) were male and 3132 (87.3%) were aged 20-49 years. Of the total, 469 (13.1%) were seropositive. Seropositivity was highest in October 2020 (15.7%) and February 2021 (49.7%) reflecting the two epidemic waves. Unlike the first wave, both urban and rural areas had high seropositivity by February 2021, Balaka (rural, 37.5%), Blantyre (urban, 54.8%), Lilongwe (urban, 54.5%) and Mzuzu (urban, 57.5%). First wave sera showed potent in vitro neutralisation activity against the original variant (78%[7/9]) but not the Beta variant (22% [2/9]). Second wave sera potently neutralised the Beta variant (73% [8/11]). <h4>Interpretation</h4> The findings confirm extensive SARS-CoV-2 exposure in Malawi over two epidemic waves with likely poor cross-protection to reinfection from the first on the second wave. Since prior exposure augments COVID-19 vaccine immunity, prioritising administration of the first dose in high SARS-CoV-2 exposure settings could maximise the benefit of the limited available vaccines in Malawi and the region. <h4>Research in context</h4> <h4>Evidence before this study</h4> We searched PubMed on August 16, 2021, with no language restrictions, for titles and abstracts published between Jan 1, 2020, and August 16, 2021, using the search terms: “SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence in Africa”[Title/Abstract]) OR “SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence in blood donors” [Title/Abstract] OR “SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence in Malawi”, and found 15 records. There are limited SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence studies in sub Saharan Africa, however the few that are available report high seroprevalence than can be deduced from the respective national reported COVID-19 cases and deaths. Only two published SARS-CoV-2 serosurveys were done on blood donors, from Kenya and Madagascar. Blood donor serosurveys have been recommended by the WHO as an important tool for assessing the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and estimating the burden of COVID-19 pandemic. <h4>Added value of this study</h4> Unlike previous SARS-CoV-2 blood donor serosurveys in African populations that were conducted for a maximum period of 9 months, our study covers a full year from January 2020 to February 2021, capturing potential introduction of SARS-CoV-2 into Malawi as well as the two epidemic waves. This study provides evidence against the speculation that SARS-CoV-2 had been circulating more widely in sub-Saharan Africa before the first detected cases. It also provides supporting evidence suggesting that the Beta variant was the likely driver of the second wave that resulted in high SARS-CoV-2 seropositivity in January to February 2021 in Malawi. <h4>Implications of all the available evidence</h4> Our results show extensive community transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in Malawi as reflected in the blood donors serosurvey, with almost half the sample population being seropositive for anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies by February 2021. This has implications for COVID-19 vaccination policy in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where there are limited available vaccine doses. Considering that prior exposure to SARS-CoV-2 augments COVID-19 vaccine immunity, strategies to maximise administration of the first vaccine dose, while waiting for more vaccines to become available, could maximise the benefits of the limited available vaccines in high SARS-CoV-2 exposure settings in SSA such as Malawi.

Item Type: Preprint
Divisions: Faculty of Health and Life Sciences
Faculty of Health and Life Sciences > Institute of Infection, Veterinary and Ecological Sciences
Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 01 Aug 2022 10:15
Last Modified: 18 Jan 2023 20:54
DOI: 10.1101/2021.08.18.21262207
Open Access URL: https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/track/pdf/10...
Related URLs:
URI: https://livrepository.liverpool.ac.uk/id/eprint/3160075