Protective action of natural and induced immunization against the occurrence of delta or alpha variants of SARS-CoV-2 infection: a test-negative case-control study

BMC Med. 2022 Feb 8;20(1):52. doi: 10.1186/s12916-022-02262-y.


Background: The evolution of SARS-CoV-2 has led to the emergence of several new variants, and few data are available on the impact of vaccination on SARS-CoV-2 variants. We aimed to assess the association between natural (previous infection) and induced (partial or complete vaccination) exposure to SARS-CoV-2 and the onset of new infection supported by the delta variant, and of comparing it with that supported by alpha.

Methods: We performed a test-negative case-control study, by linking population-based registries of confirmed diagnoses of infection with SARS-CoV-2, vaccinations against Covid-19 and healthcare utilization databases of the Italian Lombardy Region. Four hundred ninety-six persons who between 27 December 2020 and 16 July 2021 had an infection by the delta variant were 1:1 matched with citizens affected by alphavariant and 1:10 matched with persons who had a negative molecular test, according to gender, age and date of molecular ascertainment. We used a conditional logistic regression for estimating relative risk reduction of either variants associated with natural and/or induced immunization and corresponding 95% confidence interval (CI).

Results: Previous infection was associated with 91% (95% CI 85% to 95%) reduced relative risk of reinfection, without evidence of significant differences between delta and alpha cases (p=0.547). Significant lower vaccinal protection against delta than alpha variant infection was observed with reduced relative risk associated with partial vaccination respectively of 29% (7% to 45%), and 62% (48% to 71%) (p=0.001), and with complete vaccination respectively of 75% (66% to 82%) and 90% (85% to 94%) (p=0.003).

Conclusions: Lower protection towards infections caused by the delta variant with respect to alpha variant was noticed, even after the completion of the vaccination cycle. This finding would support efforts to maximize both vaccine uptake with two doses and fulfilment with individual protection measures, especially as the delta variant is rampant worldwide presently.

Keywords: Immunization; Public health; SARS-CoV-2; SARS-CoV-2 variants; Vaccination.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 Vaccines
  • COVID-19*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Humans
  • SARS-CoV-2*
  • Vaccination


  • COVID-19 Vaccines

Supplementary concepts

  • SARS-CoV-2 variants