Importance: The effect of prior SARS-CoV-2 infection on vaccine protection remains poorly understood.
Objective: To assess protection from SARS-CoV-2 breakthrough infection after mRNA vaccination among persons with vs without prior SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Design, setting, and participants: Matched-cohort studies in Qatar for the BNT162b2 (Pfizer-BioNTech) and mRNA-1273 (Moderna) vaccines. A total of 1 531 736 individuals vaccinated with either vaccine between December 21, 2020, and September 19, 2021, were followed up beginning 14 days after receiving the second dose until September 19, 2021.
Exposures: Prior SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19 vaccination.
Main outcomes and measures: Incident SARS-CoV-2 infection, defined as a polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-positive nasopharyngeal swab regardless of reason for PCR testing or presence of symptoms. Cumulative incidence was calculated using the Kaplan-Meier estimator method.
Results: The BNT162b2-vaccinated cohort comprised 99 226 individuals with and 290 432 matched individuals without prior PCR-confirmed infection (median age, 37 years; 68% male). The mRNA-1273-vaccinated cohort comprised 58 096 individuals with and 169 514 matched individuals without prior PCR-confirmed infection (median age, 36 years; 73% male). Among BNT162b2-vaccinated persons, 159 reinfections occurred in those with and 2509 in those without prior infection 14 days or more after dose 2. Among mRNA-1273-vaccinated persons, 43 reinfections occurred in those with and 368 infections in those without prior infection. Cumulative infection incidence among BNT162b2-vaccinated individuals was an estimated 0.15% (95% CI, 0.12%-0.18%) in those with and 0.83% (95% CI, 0.79%-0.87%) in those without prior infection at 120 days of follow-up (adjusted hazard ratio for breakthrough infection with prior infection, 0.18 [95% CI, 0.15-0.21]; P < .001). Cumulative infection incidence among mRNA-1273-vaccinated individuals was an estimated 0.11% (95% CI, 0.08%-0.15%) in those with and 0.35% (95% CI, 0.32%-0.40%) in those without prior infection at 120 days of follow-up (adjusted hazard ratio, 0.35 [95% CI, 0.25-0.48]; P < .001). Vaccinated individuals with prior infection 6 months or more before dose 1 had statistically significantly lower risk for breakthrough infection than those vaccinated less than 6 months before dose 1 (adjusted hazard ratio, 0.62 [95% CI, 0.42-0.92]; P = .02 for BNT162b2 and 0.40 [95% CI, 0.18-0.91]; P = .03 for mRNA-1273 vaccination).
Conclusions and relevance: Prior SARS-CoV-2 infection was associated with a statistically significantly lower risk for breakthrough infection among individuals receiving the BNT162b2 or mRNA-1273 vaccines in Qatar between December 21, 2020, and September 19, 2021. The observational study design precludes direct comparisons of infection risk between the 2 vaccines.