Oxford research shows vaccines still effective against Delta variant

Published: 19-Aug-2021

The Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines still offer good protection, although effectiveness is reduced compared with Alpha

A study from the University of Oxford has reaffirmed the efficacy of the vaccines against the COVID-19 variants of concern.

Done in partnership with the Office of National Statistics (ONS) and the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), the study found against the Delta variant, the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines still offer good protection, although effectiveness is reduced compared with Alpha.

Two doses of either vaccine provided at least the same level of protection as having had COVID-19 before through natural infection, and people who had been vaccinated after already being infected with COVID-19 had even more protection than vaccinated individuals who had not had COVID-19 before.

However, Delta infections after two vaccine doses had similar peak levels of virus to those in unvaccinated people; with the Alpha variant, peak virus levels in those infected post-vaccination were much lower.

Professor Sarah Walker, Professor of Medical Statistics and Epidemiology at the University of Oxford and Chief Investigator and Academic Lead for the COVID-19 Infection Survey, said: “We don’t yet know how much transmission can happen from people who get COVID-19 after being vaccinated – for example, they may have high levels of virus for shorter periods of time.

“But the fact that they can have high levels of virus suggests that people who aren’t yet vaccinated may not be as protected from the Delta variant as we hoped. This means it is essential for as many people as possible to get vaccinated – both in the UK and worldwide.”

A single dose of the Moderna vaccine has similar or greater effectiveness against the Delta variant as single doses of the other vaccines.

Two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech have greater initial effectiveness against new COVID-19 infections, but this declines faster compared with two doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca.

Results suggest that after four to five months effectiveness of these two vaccines would be similar – however, researchers say long-term effects need to be studied.

The time between doses does not affect effectiveness in preventing new infections, but younger people have even more protection from vaccination than older people.

Dr Koen Pouwels, Senior Researcher in Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Population Health, said: “The fact that we did not see any effect of the interval between first and second doses, and the greater effectiveness of having had two doses, rather than one dose, supports the decision to reduce this to eight weeks now Delta is the main variant of concern in the UK.

“However, whilst vaccinations reduce the chance of getting COVID-19, they do not eliminate it. More importantly, our data shows the potential for vaccinated individuals to still pass COVID-19 onto others, and the importance of testing and self-isolation to reduce transmission risk.”

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