Vaccine Efficacy Diminished as Delta Arose, CDC Report Shows

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John Tozzi  
The vaccines are still protective, the CDC said, and the finding must be interpreted with caution, as vaccine effectiveness might wane over time and the estimates of efficacy were imprecise.

“Although these interim findings suggest a moderate reduction in the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines in preventing infection, the sustained two-thirds reduction in infection risk underscores the continued importance and benefits of Covid-19 vaccination,” researchers wrote in the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The findings echo earlier evidence from Israel and the U.K. suggesting Covid vaccines lost some potency in preventing infections over time as the delta variant spread. These and other research results will be under scrutiny next week as CDC advisers weigh the Biden administration’s plan to administer booster doses to most vaccine recipients in the U.S.

The booster campaign, still awaiting the sign-off of the Food and Drug Administration, is set to begin Sept. 20. CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will consider the extra-dose plan during a two-day meeting that starts Monday.

The finding of diminished effectiveness when delta was the dominant virus strain comes with an important caveat: The range of that estimate is highly uncertain. Researchers reported 95% confidence that the efficacy was between 26% and 84% in that period.

Read More: Understanding the Debate Over Covid Booster Shots

The observational study tracked more than 4,000 health-care workers, first responders, and other front-line personnel in eight U.S. locations across six states from December 2020 to August 2021. They were tested weekly for Covid infection, and about 83% were vaccinated.

About two-thirds of those vaccinated had received the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE shot, 2% received Johnson & Johnson’s, and the rest received the Moderna Inc. vaccine.

Overall, vaccinations were estimated to be 80% effective in preventing infection during the study period.

(Updates with CDC advisers’ meeting in fourth paragraph.)

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