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This is an open access publication: Published:December 01, 2021 DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eclinm.2021.101212
Identifying and testing individuals likely to have SARS-CoV-2 is critical for infection control, including post-vaccination. Vaccination is a major public health strategy to reduce SARS-CoV-2 infection globally. Some individuals experience systemic symptoms post-vaccination, which overlap with COVID-19 symptoms. This study compared early post-vaccination symptoms in individuals who subsequently tested positive or negative for SARS-CoV-2, using data from the COVID Symptom Study (CSS) app.
We conducted a prospective observational study in 1,072,313 UK CSS participants who were asymptomatic when vaccinated with Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine (BNT162b2) or Oxford-AstraZeneca adenovirus-vectored vaccine (ChAdOx1 nCoV-19) between 8 December 2020 and 17 May 2021, who subsequently reported symptoms within seven days (N=362,770) (other than local symptoms at injection site) and were tested for SARS-CoV-2 (N=14,842), aiming to differentiate vaccination side-effects per se from superimposed SARS-CoV-2 infection. The post-vaccination symptoms and SARS-CoV-2 test results were contemporaneously logged by participants. Demographic and clinical information (including comorbidities) were recorded. Symptom profiles in individuals testing positive were compared with a 1:1 matched population testing negative, including using machine learning and multiple models considering UK testing criteria.
Differentiating post-vaccination side-effects alone from early COVID-19 was challenging, with a sensitivity in identification of individuals testing positive of 0.6 at best. Most of these individuals did not have fever, persistent cough, or anosmia/dysosmia, requisite symptoms for accessing UK testing; and many only had systemic symptoms commonly seen post-vaccination in individuals negative for SARS-CoV-2 (headache, myalgia, and fatigue).
Post-vaccination symptoms per se cannot be differentiated from COVID-19 with clinical robustness, either using symptom profiles or machine-derived models. Individuals presenting with systemic symptoms post-vaccination should be tested for SARS-CoV-2 or quarantining, to prevent community spread.
UK Government Department of Health and Social Care, Wellcome Trust, UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, UK National Institute for Health Research, UK Medical Research Council and British Heart Foundation, Chronic Disease Research Foundation, Zoe Limited.
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