Background Starting December 2020, Israel began a mass vaccination campaign against coronavirus administering the Pfizer BNT162b2 vaccine, which led to a sharp curtailing of the outbreak. After a period with almost no SARS-CoV-2 infections, a resurgent COVID-19 outbreak initiated mid June 2021. Possible reasons for the breakthrough were reduced vaccine effectiveness against the Delta variant, and waning immunity. The aim of this study was to quantify the extent of waning immunity using Israel’s national-database.

Methods Data on all PCR positive test results between July 11-31, 2021 of Israeli residents who became fully vaccinated before June 2021 were used in this analysis. Infection rates and severe COVID-19 outcomes were compared between individuals who were vaccinated in different time periods using a Poisson regression, stratifying by age group and adjusting for possible confounding factors.

Results The rates of both documented SARS-CoV-2 infections and severe COVID-19 exhibit a statistically significant increase as time from second vaccine dose elapsed. Elderly individuals (60+) who received their second dose in March 2021 were 1.6 (CI: [1.3, 2]) times more protected against infection and 1.7 (CI: [1.0, 2.7]) times more protected against severe COVID-19 compared to those who received their second dose in January 2021. Similar results were found for different age groups.

Conclusions These results indicate a strong effect of waning immunity in all age groups after six months. Quantifying the effect of waning immunity on vaccine effectiveness is critical for policy makers worldwide facing the dilemma of administering booster vaccinations.