Association of Frailty, Age, and Biological Sex with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 Messenger RNA Vaccine–Induced Immunity in Older Adults

Janna R. Shapiro, Ioannis Sitaras, Han Sol Park, Tihitina Y. Aytenfisu, Christopher Caputo, Maggie Li, John Lee, Trevor S. Johnston, Huifen Li, Camille Wouters, Pricila Hauk, Henning Jacobsen, Yukang Li, Engle Abrams, Steve Yoon, Andrew J. Kocot, Tianrui Yang, Yushu Huang, Steven M. Cramer, Michael J. BetenbaughAmanda K. Debes, Rosemary Morgan, Aaron M. Milstone, Andrew H. Karaba, Andrew Pekosz, Sean X. Leng, Sabra L. Klein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background. Male sex and old age are risk factors for severe coronavirus disease 2019, but the intersection of sex and aging on antibody responses to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) vaccines has not been characterized. Methods. Plasma samples were collected from older adults (aged 75–98 years) before and after 3 doses of SARS-CoV-2 mRNA vaccination, and from younger adults (aged 18–74 years) post-dose 2, for comparison. Antibody binding to SARS-CoV-2 antigens (spike protein [S], S receptor-binding domain, and nucleocapsid), functional activity against S, and live-virus neutralization were measured against the vaccine virus and the Alpha, Delta, and Omicron variants of concern (VOCs). Results. Vaccination induced greater antibody titers in older females than in older males, with both age and frailty associated with reduced antibody responses in males but not females. Responses declined significantly in the 6 months after the second dose. The third dose restored functional antibody responses and eliminated disparities caused by sex, age, and frailty in older adults. Responses to the VOCs, particularly the Omicron variant, were significantly reduced relative to the vaccine virus, with older males having lower titers to the VOCs than older females. Older adults had lower responses to the vaccine and VOC viruses than younger adults, with greater disparities in males than in females. Conclusions. Older and frail males may be more vulnerable to breakthrough infections owing to low antibody responses before receipt of a third vaccine dose. Promoting third dose coverage in older adults, especially males, is crucial to protecting this vulnerable population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S61-S71
JournalClinical Infectious Diseases
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 15 2022


  • ACE2
  • Delta
  • Omicron
  • aging
  • antibody response
  • frailty
  • sex differences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases


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