Absolute and Relative Vaccine Effectiveness of Primary and Booster Series of COVID-19 Vaccines (mRNA and Adenovirus Vector) Against COVID-19 Hospitalizations in the United States, December 2021-April 2022

Author Department

Medicine; Pulmonary/Critical Care Medicine

Document Type

Article, Peer-reviewed

Publication Date



Background: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine effectiveness (VE) studies are increasingly reporting relative VE (rVE) comparing a primary series plus booster doses with a primary series only. Interpretation of rVE differs from traditional studies measuring absolute VE (aVE) of a vaccine regimen against an unvaccinated referent group. We estimated aVE and rVE against COVID-19 hospitalization in primary-series plus first-booster recipients of COVID-19 vaccines.

Methods: Booster-eligible immunocompetent adults hospitalized at 21 medical centers in the United States during December 25, 2021-April 4, 2022 were included. In a test-negative design, logistic regression with case status as the outcome and completion of primary vaccine series or primary series plus 1 booster dose as the predictors, adjusted for potential confounders, were used to estimate aVE and rVE.

Results: A total of 2060 patients were analyzed, including 1104 COVID-19 cases and 956 controls. Relative VE against COVID-19 hospitalization in boosted mRNA vaccine recipients versus primary series only was 66% (95% confidence interval [CI], 55%-74%); aVE was 81% (95% CI, 75%-86%) for boosted versus 46% (95% CI, 30%-58%) for primary. For boosted Janssen vaccine recipients versus primary series, rVE was 49% (95% CI, -9% to 76%); aVE was 62% (95% CI, 33%-79%) for boosted versus 36% (95% CI, -4% to 60%) for primary.

Conclusions: Vaccine booster doses increased protection against COVID-19 hospitalization compared with a primary series. Comparing rVE measures across studies can lead to flawed interpretations of the added value of a new vaccination regimen, whereas difference in aVE, when available, may be a more useful metric.

Keywords: COVID-19; absolute vaccine effectiveness; booster vaccine series; primary vaccine series; relative vaccine effectiveness.