Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

BackgroundThe time-concentrated nature of the first wave of the COVID-19 epidemic in England in March and April 2020 provides a natural experiment to measure changes in antibody positivity at the population level before onset of the second wave and initiation of the vaccination programme.MethodsThree cross-sectional national surveys with non-overlapping random samples of the population in England undertaken between late June and September 2020 (REACT-2 study). 365,104 adults completed questionnaires and self-administered lateral flow immunoassay (LFIA) tests for IgG against SARS-CoV-2.FindingsOverall, 17,576 people had detectable antibodies, a prevalence of 4.9% (95% confidence intervals 4.9, 5.0) when adjusted for test characteristics and weighted to the adult population of England. The prevalence declined from 6.0% (5.8, 6.1), to 4.8% (4.7, 5.0) and 4.4% (4.3, 4.5), over the three rounds of the study a difference of -26.5% (-29.0, -23.8). The highest prevalence and smallest overall decline in positivity was in the youngest age group (18-24 years) at -14.9% (-21.6, -8.1), and lowest prevalence and largest decline in the oldest group (>74 years) at -39.0% (-50.8, -27.2). The decline from June to September 2020 was largest in those who did not report a history of COVID-19 at -64.0% (-75.6, -52.3), compared to -22.3% (-27.0, -17.7) in those with SARS-CoV-2 infection confirmed on PCR.InterpretationA large proportion of the population remained susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection in England based on naturally acquired immunity from the first wave. Widespread vaccination is needed to confer immunity and control the epidemic at population level.FundingThis work was funded by the Department of Health and Social Care in England.

Original publication




Journal article


The Lancet regional health. Europe

Publication Date





School of Public Health, Imperial College London, London W2 1PG, UK.