mRNA COVID-19 vaccines have shown high effectiveness in the prevention of symptomatic COVID-19, hospitalization, severe disease, and death. Nevertheless, a minority of vaccinated individuals might get infected and suffer significant morbidity. Characteristics of vaccine breakthrough infections have not been studied. We sought to portray the population of Israeli patients, who were hospitalized with COVID-19 despite full vaccination.
A retrospective multicenter cohort study of 17 hospitals included Pfizer/BioNTech’s BNT162b2 fully-vaccinated patients who developed COVID-19 more than 7 days after the second vaccine dose and required hospitalization. The risk for poor outcome, defined as a composite of mechanical ventilation or death, was assessed.
152 patients were included, accounting for half of hospitalized fully-vaccinated patients in Israel. Poor outcome was noted in 38 patients and mortality rate reached 22% (34/152). Notable, the cohort was characterized by a high rate of comorbidities predisposing to severe COVID-19, including hypertension (108, 71%), diabetes (73, 48%), CHF (41, 27%), chronic kidney and lung diseases (37, 24% each), dementia (29, 19%), and cancer (36, 24%), and only 6 (%) had no comorbidities. Sixty (40%) of the patients were immunocompromised. Higher SARS-CoV-2 viral-load was associated with a significant risk for poor outcome. Risk also appeared higher in patients receiving anti-CD20 treatment and in patients with low titers of anti-spike IgG, but these differences did not reach statistical significance.
We found that severe COVID-19 infection, associated with a high mortality rate, might develop in a minority of fully-vaccinated individuals with multiple comorbidities. Our patients had a higher rate of comorbidities and immunosuppression compared to previously reported non-vaccinated hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Further characterization of this vulnerable population may help to develop guidance to augment their protection, either by continued social-distancing, or by additional active or passive vaccinations.

Copyright © 2021 European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.