Efficacy and safety of COVID-19 vaccines

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2022 Dec 7;12(12):CD015477. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD015477.


Background: Different forms of vaccines have been developed to prevent the SARS-CoV-2 virus and subsequent COVID-19 disease. Several are in widespread use globally. OBJECTIVES: To assess the efficacy and safety of COVID-19 vaccines (as a full primary vaccination series or a booster dose) against SARS-CoV-2.

Search methods: We searched the Cochrane COVID-19 Study Register and the COVID-19 L·OVE platform (last search date 5 November 2021). We also searched the WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform, regulatory agency websites, and Retraction Watch.

Selection criteria: We included randomized controlled trials (RCTs) comparing COVID-19 vaccines to placebo, no vaccine, other active vaccines, or other vaccine schedules.

Data collection and analysis: We used standard Cochrane methods. We used GRADE to assess the certainty of evidence for all except immunogenicity outcomes. We synthesized data for each vaccine separately and presented summary effect estimates with 95% confidence intervals (CIs). MAIN RESULTS: We included and analyzed 41 RCTs assessing 12 different vaccines, including homologous and heterologous vaccine schedules and the effect of booster doses. Thirty-two RCTs were multicentre and five were multinational. The sample sizes of RCTs were 60 to 44,325 participants. Participants were aged: 18 years or older in 36 RCTs; 12 years or older in one RCT; 12 to 17 years in two RCTs; and three to 17 years in two RCTs. Twenty-nine RCTs provided results for individuals aged over 60 years, and three RCTs included immunocompromized patients. No trials included pregnant women. Sixteen RCTs had two-month follow-up or less, 20 RCTs had two to six months, and five RCTs had greater than six to 12 months or less. Eighteen reports were based on preplanned interim analyses. Overall risk of bias was low for all outcomes in eight RCTs, while 33 had concerns for at least one outcome. We identified 343 registered RCTs with results not yet available. This abstract reports results for the critical outcomes of confirmed symptomatic COVID-19, severe and critical COVID-19, and serious adverse events only for the 10 WHO-approved vaccines. For remaining outcomes and vaccines, see main text. The evidence for mortality was generally sparse and of low or very low certainty for all WHO-approved vaccines, except AD26.COV2.S (Janssen), which probably reduces the risk of all-cause mortality (risk ratio (RR) 0.25, 95% CI 0.09 to 0.67; 1 RCT, 43,783 participants; high-certainty evidence). Confirmed symptomatic COVID-19 High-certainty evidence found that BNT162b2 (BioNtech/Fosun Pharma/Pfizer), mRNA-1273 (ModernaTx), ChAdOx1 (Oxford/AstraZeneca), Ad26.COV2.S, BBIBP-CorV (Sinopharm-Beijing), and BBV152 (Bharat Biotect) reduce the incidence of symptomatic COVID-19 compared to placebo (vaccine efficacy (VE): BNT162b2: 97.84%, 95% CI 44.25% to 99.92%; 2 RCTs, 44,077 participants; mRNA-1273: 93.20%, 95% CI 91.06% to 94.83%; 2 RCTs, 31,632 participants; ChAdOx1: 70.23%, 95% CI 62.10% to 76.62%; 2 RCTs, 43,390 participants; Ad26.COV2.S: 66.90%, 95% CI 59.10% to 73.40%; 1 RCT, 39,058 participants; BBIBP-CorV: 78.10%, 95% CI 64.80% to 86.30%; 1 RCT, 25,463 participants; BBV152: 77.80%, 95% CI 65.20% to 86.40%; 1 RCT, 16,973 participants). Moderate-certainty evidence found that NVX-CoV2373 (Novavax) probably reduces the incidence of symptomatic COVID-19 compared to placebo (VE 82.91%, 95% CI 50.49% to 94.10%; 3 RCTs, 42,175 participants). There is low-certainty evidence for CoronaVac (Sinovac) for this outcome (VE 69.81%, 95% CI 12.27% to 89.61%; 2 RCTs, 19,852 participants). Severe or critical COVID-19 High-certainty evidence found that BNT162b2, mRNA-1273, Ad26.COV2.S, and BBV152 result in a large reduction in incidence of severe or critical disease due to COVID-19 compared to placebo (VE: BNT162b2: 95.70%, 95% CI 73.90% to 99.90%; 1 RCT, 46,077 participants; mRNA-1273: 98.20%, 95% CI 92.80% to 99.60%; 1 RCT, 28,451 participants; AD26.COV2.S: 76.30%, 95% CI 57.90% to 87.50%; 1 RCT, 39,058 participants; BBV152: 93.40%, 95% CI 57.10% to 99.80%; 1 RCT, 16,976 participants). Moderate-certainty evidence found that NVX-CoV2373 probably reduces the incidence of severe or critical COVID-19 (VE 100.00%, 95% CI 86.99% to 100.00%; 1 RCT, 25,452 participants). Two trials reported high efficacy of CoronaVac for severe or critical disease with wide CIs, but these results could not be pooled. Serious adverse events (SAEs) mRNA-1273, ChAdOx1 (Oxford-AstraZeneca)/SII-ChAdOx1 (Serum Institute of India), Ad26.COV2.S, and BBV152 probably result in little or no difference in SAEs compared to placebo (RR: mRNA-1273: 0.92, 95% CI 0.78 to 1.08; 2 RCTs, 34,072 participants; ChAdOx1/SII-ChAdOx1: 0.88, 95% CI 0.72 to 1.07; 7 RCTs, 58,182 participants; Ad26.COV2.S: 0.92, 95% CI 0.69 to 1.22; 1 RCT, 43,783 participants); BBV152: 0.65, 95% CI 0.43 to 0.97; 1 RCT, 25,928 participants). In each of these, the likely absolute difference in effects was fewer than 5/1000 participants. Evidence for SAEs is uncertain for BNT162b2, CoronaVac, BBIBP-CorV, and NVX-CoV2373 compared to placebo (RR: BNT162b2: 1.30, 95% CI 0.55 to 3.07; 2 RCTs, 46,107 participants; CoronaVac: 0.97, 95% CI 0.62 to 1.51; 4 RCTs, 23,139 participants; BBIBP-CorV: 0.76, 95% CI 0.54 to 1.06; 1 RCT, 26,924 participants; NVX-CoV2373: 0.92, 95% CI 0.74 to 1.14; 4 RCTs, 38,802 participants). For the evaluation of heterologous schedules, booster doses, and efficacy against variants of concern, see main text of review.

Authors' conclusions: Compared to placebo, most vaccines reduce, or likely reduce, the proportion of participants with confirmed symptomatic COVID-19, and for some, there is high-certainty evidence that they reduce severe or critical disease. There is probably little or no difference between most vaccines and placebo for serious adverse events. Over 300 registered RCTs are evaluating the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, and this review is updated regularly on the COVID-NMA platform (covid-nma.com). Implications for practice Due to the trial exclusions, these results cannot be generalized to pregnant women, individuals with a history of SARS-CoV-2 infection, or immunocompromized people. Most trials had a short follow-up and were conducted before the emergence of variants of concern. Implications for research Future research should evaluate the long-term effect of vaccines, compare different vaccines and vaccine schedules, assess vaccine efficacy and safety in specific populations, and include outcomes such as preventing long COVID-19. Ongoing evaluation of vaccine efficacy and effectiveness against emerging variants of concern is also vital.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • 2019-nCoV Vaccine mRNA-1273*
  • Adolescent
  • Aged
  • COVID-19* / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • SARS-CoV-2


  • sinovac COVID-19 vaccine
  • BIBP COVID-19 vaccine
  • BBV152 COVID-19 vaccine
  • 2019-nCoV Vaccine mRNA-1273