The Incidence and Effect of Adverse Events Due to COVID-19 Vaccines on Breakthrough Infections: Decentralized Observational Study With Underrepresented Groups

JMIR Form Res. 2022 Nov 4;6(11):e41914. doi: 10.2196/41914.


Background: Despite continuing efforts to improve the inclusion of underserved groups in clinical research, gaps in diversity remain. Participation of special populations is especially important when facing problems of unprecedented complexity such as the COVID-19 pandemic. A better understanding of factors associated with the immune response in diverse populations would advance future preventive and curative approaches.

Objective: The objective of this study was to investigate the factors potentially responsible for adverse events following COVID-19 immunization. The study population included adults from rural areas, transitional countries, and those with medically understudied conditions, across a broad age range.

Methods: The study evolved from peer support networks developed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants were recruited digitally through online neighborhood and health communities. Some of the participants volunteered as study investigators assisting with offline recruitment and safety monitoring. Individuals who consented to participate were asked to share their vaccination experiences either using constantly evolving web-based surveys or via one-on-one communication. Inferential statistical analysis to estimate differences between study groups was performed using parametric and nonparametric tests.

Results: Of 1430 participants who shared their vaccination experiences, 648 had outcome measures at their 1.5-year follow-up. Significant differences were found between age groups, types of vaccine adverse events (VAEs), incidences of breakthrough infections, and health conditions linked to the microbiome. Pairwise comparisons showed that VAEs interfering with daily activities were significantly higher in both younger (18-59 years) and older age groups (80-100 years, P<.001) than in the 60-79-year age group. Short-term VAEs were associated with lower incidence of breakthrough COVID-19 infections relative to those who reported either minimal or long-term adverse events (P<.001). A genetic origin was suggested for some adverse reactions.

Conclusions: The findings of this study demonstrate that vaccine adverse reactions in older individuals are being overlooked, and the incidence of VAEs impairing immunity may be higher than previously perceived. Better preventive measures are needed for all those at risk for life-threatening and long-term adverse events due to vaccination. Supportive community-based studies focusing on these populations could add important data to the current body of knowledge. Further and more comprehensive studies should follow.

Trial registration: NCT04832932;

International registered report identifier (irrid): RR2-10.1101/2021.06.28.21256779.

Keywords: COVID-19; COVID-19 vaccines; aging; breakthrough infections; decentralized participatory study; elderly; elderly population; genetic disparity; impaired immunity; medically underserved populations; microbiome disparity; older individuals; vaccination; vaccine adverse events.

Associated data