Increased risk for COVID-19 breakthrough infection in fully vaccinated patients with substance use disorders in the United States between December 2020 and August 2021

Lindsey Wang,QuanQiu Wang,Pamela B. Davis,Nora D.  Volkow,Rong Xu,First published: 05 October 2021


Individuals with substance use disorders (SUDs) are at increased risk for COVID-19 infection and for adverse outcomes of the infection. Though vaccines are highly effective against COVID-19, their effectiveness in individuals with SUDs might be curtailed by compromised immune status and a greater likelihood of exposures, added to the waning vaccine immunity and the new SARS-CoV-2 variants. In a population-based cohort study, we assessed the risk, time trends, outcomes and disparities of COVID-19 breakthrough infection in fully vaccinated SUD patients starting 14 days after completion of vaccination. The study included 579,372 individuals (30,183 with a diagnosis of SUD and 549,189 without such a diagnosis) who were fully vaccinated between December 2020 and August 2021, and had not contracted COVID-19 infection prior to vaccination. We used the TriNetX Analytics network platform to access de-identified electronic health records from 63 health care organizations in the US. Among SUD patients, the risk for breakthrough infection ranged from 6.8% for tobacco use disorder to 7.8% for cannabis use disorder, all significantly higher than the 3.6% in non-SUD population (p<0.001). Breakthrough infection risk remained significantly higher after controlling for demographics (age, gender, ethnicity) and vaccine types for all SUD subtypes, except for tobacco use disorder, and was highest for cocaine and cannabis use disorders (hazard ratio, HR=2.06, 95% CI: 1.30-3.25 for cocaine; HR=1.92, 95% CI: 1.39-2.66 for cannabis). When we matched SUD and non-SUD individuals for lifetime comorbidities and adverse socioeconomic determinants of health, the risk for breakthrough infection no longer differed between these populations, except for patients with cannabis use disorder, who remained at increased risk (HR=1.55, 95% CI: 1.22-1.99). The risk for breakthrough infection was higher in SUD patients who received the Pfizer than the Moderna vaccine (HR=1.49, 95% CI: 1.31-1.69). In the vaccinated SUD population, the risk for hospitalization was 22.5% for the breakthrough cohort and 1.6% for the non-breakthrough cohort (risk ratio, RR=14.4, 95% CI: 10.19-20.42), while the risk for death was 1.7% and 0.5% respectively (RR=3.5, 95% CI: 1.74-7.05). No significant age, gender and ethnic disparities for breakthrough infection were observed in vaccinated SUD patients. These data suggest that fully vaccinated SUD individuals are at higher risk for breakthrough COVID-19 infection, and this is largely due to their higher prevalence of comorbidities and adverse socioeconomic determinants of health compared with non-SUD individuals. The high frequency of comorbidities in SUD patients is also likely to contribute to their high rates of hospitalization and death following breakthrough infection.