SARS-CoV-2 reinfections increased substantially after Omicron variants emerged. Large-scale community-based comparisons across multiple Omicron waves of reinfection characteristics, risk factors, and protection afforded by previous infection and vaccination, are limited, especially after widespread national testing stopped. We studied 245,895 adults ≥18y in the UK’s national COVID-19 Infection Survey with at least one infection (identified from positive swab tests done within the study, linked from national testing programmes, or self-reported by participants, up to their last study assessment). We quantified the risk of reinfection in multiple infection waves, including those driven by BA.1, BA.2, BA.4/5, and most recently BQ.1/CH.1.1/XBB.1.5 variants, in which most reinfections occurred. Reinfections had higher cycle threshold (Ct) values (lower viral load) and lower percentages self-reporting symptoms compared with first infections. Across multiple Omicron waves, protection against reinfection was significantly higher in those previously infected with more recent than earlier variants, even at the same time from previous infection. Protection against Omicron reinfections decreased over time from the most recent infection if this was the previous or penultimate variant (generally within the preceding year), but did not change or even slightly increased over time if this was with an even earlier variant (generally >1 year previously). Those 14-180 days after receiving their most recent vaccination had a lower risk of reinfection with all Omicron variants except BA.2 than those >180 days from their most recent vaccination. Reinfection risk was independently higher in those aged 30-45 years, and with either low or high Ct values in their most recent previous infection. Overall, the risk of Omicron reinfection is high, but with lower severity than first infections; reinfection risk is likely driven as much by viral evolution as waning immunity.


The copyright holder for this preprint is the author/funder, who has granted medRxiv a license to display the preprint in perpetuity. It is made available under a CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International license. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

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Wei, J., Stoesser, N., Matthews, P., Khera, T., Gethings, O., Diamond, I., Studley, R., Taylor, N., Peto, T., Walker, A., Pouwels, K., Eyre, D. & team, C. 2023, 'Risk of SARS-CoV-2 reinfection during multiple Omicron variant waves in the UK general population [pre-print]'. To be published in MedRxiv [Preprint]. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1101/2023.06.29.23292043

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Last updated: 11 August 2023
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