Introduction

The spring 2023 COVID-19 booster vaccination programme in England used both Pfizer BA.4-5 and Sanofi vaccines. All people aged 75 years or over and the clinically vulnerable were eligible to receive a booster dose. Direct comparisons of the effectiveness of these two vaccines in boosting protection against severe COVID-19 events have not been made in trials or observational data.

Methods

With the approval of NHS England, we used the OpenSAFELY-TPP database to compare effectiveness of the Pfizer BA.4-5 and Sanofi vaccines during the spring 2023 booster programme, between 1 April and 30 June 2023. We investigated two cohorts separately: those aged 75 or over (75+); and those aged 50 or over and clinically vulnerable (CV). In each cohort, vaccine recipients were matched on date of vaccination, COVID-19 vaccine history, age, and other characteristics. Effectiveness outcomes were COVID-19 hospital admission, COVID-19 critical care admission, and COVID-19 death up to 16 weeks after vaccination. Safety outcomes were pericarditis and myocarditis up to 4 weeks after vaccination. We report the cumulative incidence of each outcome, and compare safety and effectiveness using risk differences (RD), relative risks (RR), and incidence rate ratios (IRRs).

Results

492,642 people were 1-1 matched in the CV cohort, and 673,926 in the 75+ cohort, contributing a total of 7,423,251 and 10,173,230 person-weeks of follow-up, respectively. The incidence of COVID-19 hospital admission was higher for Sanofi than for Pfizer BA.4-5. In the CV cohort, 16-week risks per 10,000 people were 22.3 (95%CI 20.4 to 24.3) for Pfizer BA.4-5 and 26.4 (24.4 to 28.7) for Sanofi, with an IRR of 1.19 (95%CI 1.06 to 1.34). In the 75+ cohort, these were 17.5 (16.1 to 19.1) for Pfizer BA.4-5 and 20.4 (18.9 to 22.1) for Sanofi, with an IRR of 1.18 (1.05-1.32). These findings were similar across all pre-specified subgroups. More severe COVID-19 related outcomes (critical care admission and death), and safety outcomes at 4 weeks, were rare in both vaccines so we could not reliably compare effectiveness of the two vaccines.

Conclusion

This observational study comparing effectiveness of Pfizer BA.4-5 and Sanofi vaccine during the spring 2023 programme in England in the two main eligible cohorts - people aged 75 and over and in clinically vulnerable people - found some evidence of superior effectiveness against COVID-19 hospital admission for Pfizer BA.4-5 compared with Sanofi within 16 weeks after vaccination.