SARS-CoV-2 vaccines are highly effective in preventing severe COVID-19 but require boosting to maintain protection. Changes to circulating variants and prevalent natural immunity may impact on real-world effectiveness of boosters in different time periods and in different populations.
With NHS England approval, we used linked routine clinical data from >24 million patients to evaluate the effectiveness of the 2022 combined COVID-19 autumn booster and influenza vaccine campaign in non-clinically vulnerable 50-year-olds in England using a regression discontinuity design. Our primary outcome was a composite of 6-week COVID-19 emergency attendance, COVID-19 unplanned hospitalisation, or death. The secondary outcomes were: respiratory hospitalisations or death; any unplanned hospitalisation; and any death.
Our study included 1,917,375 people aged 45-54 years with no evidence of being in a high-risk group prioritised for vaccination. By 26 November 2022, booster vaccine coverage was 11.1% at age 49.75 years increasing to 39.7% at age 50.25 years. The estimated effect of the campaign on the risk of the primary outcome in 50-year-olds during weeks 7-12 after the campaign start was -0.4 per 100,000 (95% CI -7.8, 7.1). For the secondary outcomes the estimated effects were: -0.6 per 100,000 (95%CI -13.5, 12.3) for respiratory outcomes; 5.0 per 100,000 (95%CI -40.7, 50.8) for unplanned hospitalisations; and 3.0 per 100,000 (95%CI -2.7, 8.6) for any death. The results were similar when using different follow-up start dates, different bandwidths, or when estimating the effect of vaccination (rather than the campaign).
This study found little evidence that the autumn 2022 vaccination campaign in England was associated with a reduction in severe COVID-19-related outcomes among non-clinically vulnerable 50-year-olds. Possible explanations include the low risk of severe outcomes due to substantial pre-existing vaccine- and infection-induced immunity. Modest booster coverage reduced the precision with which we could estimate effectiveness. The booster campaign may have had effects beyond those estimated, including reducing virus transmission and incidence of mild or moderate COVID-19.