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Modeling the population effects of escape mutations in SARS-CoV-2 to guide vaccination strategies.

Abstract

SARS-Cov-2 escape mutations (EM) have been detected and are spreading. Vaccines may need adjustment to respond to these or future mutations. We designed a population level model integrating both waning immunity and EM. We also designed a set of criteria for elaborating and fitting this model to cross-neutralization and other data with a goal of minimizing vaccine decision errors. We formulated four related models. These differ regarding which strains can drift to escape immunity in the host when that immunity was elicited by different strains. Across changing waning and escape mutation parameter values, these model variations led to patterns where: 1) EM are rare in the first epidemic, 2) rebound outbreaks after the first outbreak are accelerated by increasing waning and by increasing drifting, 3) the long term endemic level of infection is determined mostly by waning rates with small effects of the drifting parameter, 4) EM caused loss of vaccine effectiveness, and under some conditions: vaccines induced EM that caused higher levels of infection with vaccines than without them. The differences and similarities across the four models suggest paths for developing models specifying the epitopes where EM act. This model provides a base on which to construct epitope specific evolutionary models using new high-throughput assay data from population samples to guide vaccine decisions.

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