- COVID-19 Infection Rates in Vaccinated and Unvaccinated Inmates: A Retrospective Cohort Study
by Luke Ko,1 Gary Malet,2 Lisa L Chang,3 Huu Nguyen,2 and Robert Mayes2, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/
In 2023, breakthrough COVID-19 infections among vaccinated individuals and reinfections in previously infected people have become common. Additionally, infections are due to Omicron subvariants of the virus that behave differently from those at the onset of the pandemic. Understanding how vaccination and natural immunity influence COVID-19 infection rates is crucial, especially in high-density congregate settings such as prisons, to inform public health strategies.
We analyzed COVID-19 surveillance data from January to July 2023 across 33 California state prisons, primarily a male population of 96,201 individuals. We computed the incidence rate of new COVID-19 infections among COVID-bivalent-vaccinated and entirely unvaccinated groups (those not having received either the bivalent or monovalent vaccine).
Our results indicate that the infection rates in the bivalent-vaccinated and entirely unvaccinated groups are 3.24% (95% confidence interval (CI): 3.06-3.42%) and 2.72% (CI: 2.50-2.94%), respectively, with an absolute risk difference of only 0.52%. When the data were filtered for those aged 50 and above, the infection rates were 4.07% (CI: 3.77-4.37%) and 3.1% (CI: 2.46-3.74%), respectively, revealing a mere 0.97% absolute risk difference. Among those aged 65 and above, the infection rates were 6.45% (CI: 5.74-7.16%) and 4.5% (CI: 2.57-6.43%), respectively, with an absolute risk difference of 1.95%.
We note low infection rates in both the vaccinated and unvaccinated groups, with a small absolute difference between the two across age groups. A combination of monovalent and bivalent vaccines and natural infections likely contributed to immunity and a lower level of infection rates compared to the height of the pandemic. It is possible that a degree of ‘herd immunity’ has been achieved. Yet, using p<0.05 as the threshold for statistical significance, the bivalent-vaccinated group had a slightly but statistically significantly higher infection rate than the unvaccinated group in the statewide category and the age ≥50 years category. However, in the older age category (≥65 years), there was no significant difference in infection rates between the two groups. This suggests that while the bivalent vaccine might offer protection against severe outcomes, it may not significantly reduce the risk of infections entirely. Further research is needed to understand the reasons behind these findings and to consider other factors, such as underlying health conditions. This study underscores the importance of developing vaccines that target residual COVID-19 infections, especially in regard to evolving COVID-19 variants.