Prospective cohorts of health care personnel, first responders, and other essential and frontline workers over 13 weeks in eight U.S. locations confirmed that authorized mRNA COVID-19 vaccines (Pfizer-BioNTech’s BNT162b2 and Moderna’s mRNA-1273) are highly effective in real-world conditions. Vaccine effectiveness of full immunization with two doses of mRNA vaccines was 90% (95% CI = 68%–97%) against RT-PCR–confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection. These findings are consistent with those from the mRNA vaccines’ Phase III trials (1,2) and recent observational studies of the mRNA vaccine effectiveness against severe COVID-19 (3). The findings complement and expand upon these preceding reports by demonstrating that the vaccines can also reduce the risk for infection regardless of COVID-19–associated illness symptom status (4,5). Reducing the risk for transmissible infection, which can occur among persons with asymptomatic infection or among persons several days before symptoms onset (6), is especially important among health care personnel, first responders, and other essential and frontline workers given their potential to transmit the virus through frequent close contact with patients and the public.
Partial immunization (≥14 days after first dose but before second dose) provided preventive benefits with vaccine effectiveness of 80%. This finding is similar to an analysis of Phase III trial results (1,2,7) and two other recent estimates of vaccine effectiveness for partial immunization with Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine among health care personnel, including a vaccine effectiveness (≥21 days after first dose) of 72% (95% CI = 58%–86%) against PCR-confirmed infection identified by routine testing in the United Kingdom (4) and a vaccine effectiveness (>14 days after first dose) of 60% (95% CI = 38%–74%) against PCR-confirmed infection identified by records review in Israel (5). This finding is also consistent with early descriptive findings of SARS-CoV-2 employee and clinical testing results by mRNA vaccination status in the United States (8,9).
The findings in this report are subject to at least three limitations. First, vaccine effectiveness point estimates should be interpreted with caution given the moderately wide CIs attributable in part to the limited number of postimmunization PCR-confirmed infections observed. Second, this also precluded making product-specific vaccine effectiveness estimates and limited the ability to adjust for potential confounders; however, effects were largely unchanged when study site was included in an adjusted vaccine effectiveness model and when adjusted for sex, age, ethnicity, and occupation separately in sensitivity analyses. Finally, self-collection of specimens and delays in shipments could reduce sensitivity of virus detection by PCR (10); if this disproportionately affected those who received the vaccine (e.g., because of possible vaccine attenuation of virus shedding), vaccine effectiveness would be overestimated.
The scientific rigor of these findings is enhanced by its prospective design and the participants’ very high adherence to weekly specimen collection. As the study progresses, viruses will be genetically characterized to examine the viral features of breakthrough infections. Given that there is uncertainty related to the number of days required to develop immunity postvaccination (3–5,7), future research examining vaccine effectiveness at different intervals is warranted.
These interim vaccine effectiveness findings for both Pfizer-BioNTech’s and Moderna’s mRNA vaccines in real-world conditions complement and expand upon the vaccine effectiveness estimates from other recent studies (3–5) and demonstrate that current vaccination efforts are resulting in substantial preventive benefits among working-age adults. They reinforce CDC’s recommendation of full 2-dose immunization with mRNA vaccines. COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for all eligible persons, which currently varies by location in the United States.