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Omicron has demonstrated a competitive advantage over Delta in vaccinated people. To understand this, we designed a transmission chain experiment using naïve, intranasally (IN) or intramuscularly (IM) vaccinated, and previously infected (PI) hamsters. Vaccination and previous infection protected animals from disease and virus replication after Delta and Omicron dual challenge. A gradient in transmission blockage was observed: IM vaccination displayed moderate transmission blockage potential over three airborne chains (approx. 70%), whereas, IN vaccination and PI blocked airborne transmission in >90%. In naïve hamsters, Delta completely outcompeted Omicron within and between hosts after dual infection in onward transmission. Although Delta also outcompeted Omicron in the vaccinated and PI transmission chains, an increase in Omicron competitiveness was observed in these groups. This correlated with the increase in the strength of the humoral response against Delta, with the strongest response seen in PI animals. These data highlight the continuous need to assess the emergence and spread of novel variants in populations with pre-existing immunity and address the additional evolutionary pressure this may exert on the virus.

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