PREPRINT: The impact of SARS-CoV-2 vaccination on Alpha and Delta variant transmission

Background Pre-Delta, vaccination reduced transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from individuals infected despite vaccination, potentially via reducing viral loads. While vaccination still lowers the risk of infection, similar viral loads in vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals infected with Delta question how much vaccination prevents onward transmission.

Methods We performed a retrospective observational cohort study of contacts of SARS-CoV-2-infected index cases using contact testing data from England. We used multivariable logistic regression to investigate the impact of index case and contact vaccination on transmission, and how this varies with Alpha and Delta variants (classified using S-gene detection/calendar trends) and time since second vaccination.

Results 51,798/139,164(37.2%) contacts tested were PCR-positive. Two doses of BNT162b2 or ChAdOx1 vaccines in Alpha variant index cases independently reduced PCR-positivity in contacts (aOR, adjusted odds ratio vs. unvaccinated=0.18[95%CI 0.12-0.29] and 0.37[0.22-0.63] respectively). The Delta variant attenuated vaccine-associated reductions in transmission: two BNT162b2 doses reduced Delta transmission (aOR=0.35[0.26-0.48]), more than ChAdOx1 (aOR=0.64[0.57-0.72]; heterogeneity p<0.001). Variation in viral load (Ct values) explained only a modest proportion of vaccine-associated transmission reductions. Transmission reductions declined over time since second vaccination, for Delta reaching similar levels to unvaccinated individuals by 12 weeks for ChAdOx1 and attenuating substantially for BNT162b2. Protection from vaccination in contacts also declined in the 3 months after second vaccination.

Conclusions Vaccination reduces transmission of Delta, but by less than the Alpha variant. The impact of vaccination decreased over time. Factors other than PCR-measured viral load are important in vaccine-associated transmission reductions. Booster vaccinations may help control transmission together with preventing infections.


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