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In the UK the first vaccine against COVID-19 was given in December 2020. Since then every adult, and some eligible children, have been offered several doses. Research has found that in the first year of the vaccine programme around 20 million lives were saved worldwide.
However, there was not one type of vaccine used for everyone.
Depending on when and where you were vaccinated, as well as any underlying conditions you had, you could have had one of four different types.
These are the Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Novavax vaccines – although the AstraZeneca is no longer used in the UK.
If you returned for a second dose and subsequent boosters you might not have necessarily been given the same brand of vaccine as the first time.
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Although all types of vaccine provide a level of protection against Covid infection, this will differ across the brands.
Now a study has compared the efficacy of two of the vaccines when used as a booster.
Research, published in the British Medical Journal by a team of academics from the UK and US, analysed the outcomes of both the Pfizer BioNTech – also called the BNT162b2 – and the Moderna – the mRNA-1273 – vaccine as a third dose.
As part of the trial, data on 3.2 million people was analysed.
Participants were all adults in England who received a booster dose of either vaccine between October 2021 and February 2022, having had a first and second dose of either Pfizer or AstraZeneca.
The team compared this information against any Covid positive tests, Covid related hospital admissions, Covid related deaths, and non-Covid related deaths at 20 weeks after the booster dose.
They found that after either booster any illness or death from Covid was “rare”.
More specifically, there were 84 deaths across the whole study in the 20 weeks following the boosters – equivalent to one in every 38,500 people.
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However, it was established that the risks were higher among those who had the Pfizer booster compared to Moderna.
The study said: “COVID-19-related outcomes after vaccination with BNT162b2 or mRNA-1273 as a third dose were rare, although risks were estimated to be higher for BNT162b2 than for mRNA-1273.
“These findings were broadly consistent across subgroups. These constitute important differences at a population level, but either vaccine is preferable compared with no booster dose.”
It explained: “This observational study in more than 3.2 million adults with a primary COVID-19 vaccine dose of BNT162b2 only or ChAdOx1 [AstraZeneca] only compared the effectiveness of mRNA-1273 versus BNT162b2 vaccines for a third dose and is, to our knowledge, the first to do so against severe COVID-19 outcomes.
“We estimated that mRNA-1273 provided better protection than BNT162b2 against a positive SARS-CoV-2 test and, particularly, COVID-19 related hospital admission in the first 20 weeks after receipt of a third dose, although period specific hazard ratios suggest that this benefit is largely restricted to the first 10 weeks.
“Estimates seemed broadly similar regardless of age, clinical vulnerability, and whether evidence of previous infection existed.”
Crucially though, the team stressed that the results should not deter people from accepting the Pfizer booster.
“However, both vaccines are safe and strongly effective against infection and COVID-19, compared with no boosting,” the study said. “Findings from this study should not discourage people from receiving BNT162b2 booster vaccination if offered.”