Changes in population immunity against infection and severe disease from SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variants in the United States between December 2021 and November 2022

medRxiv. 2022 Nov 23;2022.11.19.22282525. doi: 10.1101/2022.11.19.22282525. Preprint


Importance: While a substantial fraction of the US population was infected with SARS-CoV-2 during December 2021 - February 2022, the subsequent evolution of population immunity against SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variants reflects the competing influences of waning protection over time and acquisition or restoration of immunity through additional infections and vaccinations.

Objective: To estimate changes in population immunity against infection and severe disease due to circulating SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variants in the United States from December 2021 to November 2022, and to quantify the protection against a potential 2022-2023 winter SARS-CoV-2 wave.

Design setting participants: Bayesian evidence synthesis of reported COVID-19 data (diagnoses, hospitalizations), vaccinations, and waning patterns for vaccine- and infection-acquired immunity, using a mathematical model of COVID-19 natural history.

Main outcomes and measures: Population immunity against infection and severe disease from SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variants in the United States, by location (national, state, county) and week.

Results: By November 9, 2022, 94% (95% CrI, 79%-99%) of the US population were estimated to have been infected by SARS-CoV-2 at least once. Combined with vaccination, 97% (95%-99%) were estimated to have some prior immunological exposure to SARS-CoV-2. Between December 1, 2021 and November 9, 2022, protection against a new Omicron infection rose from 22% (21%-23%) to 63% (51%-75%) nationally, and protection against an Omicron infection leading to severe disease increased from 61% (59%-64%) to 89% (83%-92%). Increasing first booster uptake to 55% in all states (current US coverage: 34%) and second booster uptake to 22% (current US coverage: 11%) would increase protection against infection by 4.5 percentage points (2.4-7.2) and protection against severe disease by 1.1 percentage points (1.0-1.5).

Conclusions and relevance: Effective protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection and severe disease in November 2022 was substantially higher than in December 2021. Despite this high level of protection, a more transmissible or immune evading (sub)variant, changes in behavior, or ongoing waning of immunity could lead to a new SARS-CoV-2 wave.

Key points: Question: How did population immunity against SARS-CoV-2 infection and subsequent severe disease change between December 2021, and November 2022?Findings: On November 9, 2022, the protection against a SARS-CoV-2 infection with the Omicron variant was estimated to be 63% (51%-75%) in the US, and the protection against severe disease was 89% (83%-92%).Meaning: As most of the newly acquired immunity has been accumulated in the December 2021-February 2022 Omicron wave, risk of reinfection and subsequent severe disease remains present at the beginning of the 2022-2023 winter, despite high levels of protection.

Publication types

  • Preprint