skip to main content

Title: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 Delta Vaccine Breakthrough Transmissibility in Alachua County, Florida
Abstract Background

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) Delta variant has caused a dramatic resurgence in infections in the United Sates, raising questions regarding potential transmissibility among vaccinated individuals.


Between October 2020 and July 2021, we sequenced 4439 SARS-CoV-2 full genomes, 23% of all known infections in Alachua County, Florida, including 109 vaccine breakthrough cases. Univariate and multivariate regression analyses were conducted to evaluate associations between viral RNA burden and patient characteristics. Contact tracing and phylogenetic analysis were used to investigate direct transmissions involving vaccinated individuals.


The majority of breakthrough sequences with lineage assignment were classified as Delta variants (74.6%) and occurred, on average, about 3 months (104 ± 57.5 days) after full vaccination, at the same time (June-July 2021) of Delta variant exponential spread within the county. Six Delta variant transmission pairs between fully vaccinated individuals were identified through contact tracing, 3 of which were confirmed by phylogenetic analysis. Delta breakthroughs exhibited broad viral RNA copy number values during acute infection (interquartile range, 1.2-8.64 Log copies/mL), on average 38% lower than matched unvaccinated patients (3.29-10.81 Log copies/mL, P < .00001). Nevertheless, 49% to 50% of all breakthroughs, and 56% to 60% of Delta-infected breakthroughs exhibited viral RNA levels above the transmissibility threshold (4 Log copies/mL) irrespective of time after vaccination.


Delta infection transmissibility and general viral RNA quantification patterns in vaccinated individuals suggest limited levels of sterilizing immunity that need to be considered by public health policies. In particular, ongoing evaluation of vaccine boosters should specifically address whether extra vaccine doses curb breakthrough contribution to epidemic spread.

more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  more » ;  ;   « less
Publisher / Repository:
Oxford University Press
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Clinical Infectious Diseases
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    The emergence of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS‐CoV‐2) variants of concern (VOC) has raised questions regarding vaccine protection against SARS‐CoV‐2 infection, transmission, and ongoing virus evolution. Twenty‐three mildly symptomatic “vaccination breakthrough” infections were identified as early as January 2021 in Alachua County, Florida, among individuals fully vaccinated with either the BNT162b2 (Pfizer) or the Ad26 (Janssen/J&J) vaccines. SARS‐CoV‐2 genomes were successfully generated for 11 of the vaccine breakthroughs, and 878 individuals in the surrounding area and were included for reference‐based phylogenetic investigation. These 11 individuals were characterized by infection with VOCs, but also low‐frequency variants present within the surrounding population. Low‐frequency mutations were observed, which have been more recently identified as mutations of interest owing to their location within targeted immune epitopes (P812L) and association with increased replicative capacity (L18F). We present these results to posit the nature of the efficacy of vaccines in reducing symptoms as both a blessing and a curse—as vaccination becomes more widespread and self‐motivated testing reduced owing to the absence of severe symptoms, we face the challenge of early recognition of novel mutations of potential concern. This case study highlights the critical need for continued testing and monitoring of infection and transmission among individuals regardless of vaccination status.

    more » « less
  2. Abstract Background

    Four severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) variants predominated in the United States since 2021. Understanding disease severity related to different SARS-CoV-2 variants remains limited.


    Viral genome analysis was performed on SARS-CoV-2 clinical isolates circulating March 2021 through March 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio. Major variants were correlated with disease severity and patient outcomes.


    In total 2779 patients identified with either Alpha (n = 1153), Gamma (n = 122), Delta (n = 808), or Omicron variants (n = 696) were selected for analysis. No difference in frequency of hospitalization, intensive care unit (ICU) admission, and death were found among Alpha, Gamma, and Delta variants. However, patients with Omicron infection were significantly less likely to be admitted to the hospital, require oxygen, or admission to the ICU (χ2 = 12.8, P < .001; χ2 = 21.6, P < .002; χ2 = 9.6, P = .01, respectively). In patients whose vaccination status was known, a substantial number had breakthrough infections with Delta or Omicron variants (218/808 [26.9%] and 513/696 [73.7%], respectively). In breakthrough infections, hospitalization rate was similar regardless of variant by multivariate analysis. No difference in disease severity was identified between Omicron subvariants BA.1 and BA.2.


    Disease severity associated with Alpha, Gamma, and Delta variants is comparable while Omicron infections are significantly less severe. Breakthrough disease is significantly more common in patients with Omicron infection.

    more » « less
  3. Low, Nicola (Ed.)
    Background While booster vaccinations clearly reduce the risk of severe Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and death, the impact of boosters on Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infections has not been fully characterized: Doing so requires understanding their impact on asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic infections that often go unreported but nevertheless play an important role in spreading SARS-CoV-2. We sought to estimate the impact of COVID-19 booster doses on SARS-CoV-2 infections in a vaccinated population of young adults during an Omicron BA.1-predominant period. Methods and findings We implemented a cohort study of young adults in a college environment (Cornell University’s Ithaca campus) from a period when Omicron BA.1 was the predominant SARS-CoV-2 variant on campus (December 5 to December 31, 2021). Participants included 15,800 university students who completed initial vaccination series with vaccines approved by the World Health Organization for emergency use, were enrolled in mandatory at-least-weekly surveillance polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, and had no positive SARS-CoV-2 PCR test within 90 days before the start of the study period. Robust multivariable Poisson regression with the main outcome of a positive SARS-CoV-2 PCR test was performed to compare those who completed their initial vaccination series and a booster dose to those without a booster dose. A total of 1,926 unique SARS-CoV-2 infections were identified in the study population. Controlling for sex, student group membership, date of completion of initial vaccination series, initial vaccine type, and temporal effect during the study period, our analysis estimates that receiving a booster dose further reduces the rate of having a PCR-detected SARS-CoV-2 infection relative to an initial vaccination series by 56% (95% confidence interval [42%, 67%], P < 0.001). While most individuals had recent booster administration before or during the study period (a limitation of our study), this result is robust to the assumed delay over which a booster dose becomes effective (varied from 1 day to 14 days). The mandatory active surveillance approach used in this study, under which 86% of the person-days in the study occurred, reduces the likelihood of outcome misclassification. Key limitations of our methodology are that we did not have an a priori protocol or statistical analysis plan because the analysis was initially done for institutional research purposes, and some analysis choices were made after observing the data. Conclusions We observed that boosters are effective, relative to completion of initial vaccination series, in further reducing the rate of SARS-CoV-2 infections in a college student population during a period when Omicron BA.1 was predominant; booster vaccinations for this age group may play an important role in reducing incidence of COVID-19. 
    more » « less
  4. The durability of vaccine-mediated immunity to SARS-CoV-2, the durations to breakthrough infection, and the optimal timings of booster vaccination are crucial knowledge for pandemic response. Here, we applied comparative evolutionary analyses to estimate the durability of immunity and the likelihood of breakthrough infections over time following vaccination by BNT162b2 (Pfizer-BioNTech), mRNA-1273 (Moderna), ChAdOx1 (Oxford-AstraZeneca), and Ad26.COV2.S (Johnson & Johnson/Janssen). We evaluated anti-Spike (S) immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibody levels elicited by each vaccine relative to natural infection. We estimated typical trajectories of waning and corresponding infection probabilities, providing the distribution of times to breakthrough infection for each vaccine under endemic conditions. Peak antibody levels elicited by messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines mRNA-1273 and BNT1262b2 exceeded that of natural infection and are expected to typically yield more durable protection against breakthrough infections (median 29.6 mo; 5 to 95% quantiles 10.9 mo to 7.9 y) than natural infection (median 21.5 mo; 5 to 95% quantiles 3.5 mo to 7.1 y). Relative to mRNA-1273 and BNT1262b2, viral vector vaccines ChAdOx1 and Ad26.COV2.S exhibit similar peak anti-S IgG antibody responses to that from natural infection and are projected to yield lower, shorter-term protection against breakthrough infection (median 22.4 mo and 5 to 95% quantiles 4.3 mo to 7.2 y; and median 20.5 mo and 5 to 95% quantiles 2.6 mo to 7.0 y; respectively). These results leverage the tools from evolutionary biology to provide a quantitative basis for otherwise unknown parameters that are fundamental to public health policy decision-making. 
    more » « less
  5. null (Ed.)
    Abstract Background When three SARS-CoV-2 vaccines came to market in Europe and North America in the winter of 2020–2021, distribution networks were in a race against a major epidemiological wave of SARS-CoV-2 that began in autumn 2020. Rapid and optimized vaccine allocation was critical during this time. With 95% efficacy reported for two of the vaccines, near-term public health needs likely require that distribution is prioritized to the elderly, health care workers, teachers, essential workers, and individuals with comorbidities putting them at risk of severe clinical progression. Methods We evaluate various age-based vaccine distributions using a validated mathematical model based on current epidemic trends in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. We allow for varying waning efficacy of vaccine-induced immunity, as this has not yet been measured. We account for the fact that known COVID-positive cases may not have been included in the first round of vaccination. And, we account for age-specific immune patterns in both states at the time of the start of the vaccination program. Our analysis assumes that health systems during winter 2020–2021 had equal staffing and capacity to previous phases of the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic; we do not consider the effects of understaffed hospitals or unvaccinated medical staff. Results We find that allocating a substantial proportion (>75 % ) of vaccine supply to individuals over the age of 70 is optimal in terms of reducing total cumulative deaths through mid-2021. This result is robust to different profiles of waning vaccine efficacy and several different assumptions on age mixing during and after lockdown periods. As we do not explicitly model other high-mortality groups, our results on vaccine allocation apply to all groups at high risk of mortality if infected. A median of 327 to 340 deaths can be avoided in Rhode Island (3444 to 3647 in Massachusetts) by optimizing vaccine allocation and vaccinating the elderly first. The vaccination campaigns are expected to save a median of 639 to 664 lives in Rhode Island and 6278 to 6618 lives in Massachusetts in the first half of 2021 when compared to a scenario with no vaccine. A policy of vaccinating only seronegative individuals avoids redundancy in vaccine use on individuals that may already be immune, and would result in 0.5% to 1% reductions in cumulative hospitalizations and deaths by mid-2021. Conclusions Assuming high vaccination coverage (>28 % ) and no major changes in distancing, masking, gathering size, hygiene guidelines, and virus transmissibility between 1 January 2021 and 1 July 2021 a combination of vaccination and population immunity may lead to low or near-zero transmission levels by the second quarter of 2021. 
    more » « less