Understanding COVID-19 Vaccine Effectiveness against Death Using a Novel Measure: COVID Excess Mortality Percentage

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Journal Article

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COVID Excess Mortality Percentage; COVID-19; COVID-19 mortality; cause of death; selection bias; vaccine effectiveness


COVID-19 vaccines have saved millions of lives; however, understanding the long-term effectiveness of these vaccines is imperative to developing recommendations for booster doses and other precautions. Comparisons of mortality rates between more and less vaccinated groups may be misleading due to selection bias, as these groups may differ in underlying health status. We studied all adult deaths during the period of 1 April 2021-30 June 2022 in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, linked to vaccination records, and we used mortality from other natural causes to proxy for underlying health. We report relative COVID-19 mortality risk (RMR) for those vaccinated with two and three doses versus the unvaccinated, using a novel outcome measure that controls for selection effects. This measure, COVID Excess Mortality Percentage (CEMP), uses the non-COVID natural mortality rate (Non-COVID-NMR) as a measure of population risk of COVID mortality without vaccination. We validate this measure during the pre-vaccine period (Pearson correlation coefficient = 0.97) and demonstrate that selection effects are large, with non-COVID-NMRs for two-dose vaccinees often less than half those for the unvaccinated, and non-COVID NMRs often still lower for three-dose (booster) recipients. Progressive waning of two-dose effectiveness is observed, with an RMR of 10.6% for two-dose vaccinees aged 60+ versus the unvaccinated during April-June 2021, rising steadily to 36.2% during the Omicron period (January-June, 2022). A booster dose reduced RMR to 9.5% and 10.8% for ages 60+ during the two periods when boosters were available (October-December, 2021; January-June, 2022). Boosters thus provide important additional protection against mortality.


Health Policy and Management