Behind the scenes

Fact check: the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine’s effectiveness in older people

New data suggests jab may reduce Covid transmissions by 67%

Suggestions that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine may not be effective on older patients have been dealt a further blow after new data suggests that it eliminates the most serious form of Covid and may have a “substantial impact” on Covid transmission as well as symptoms.

Research by the University of Oxford, published in a pre-print report with The Lancet, found that the jab showed a 67% reduction in positive Covid-19 tests in those who had been vaccinated. And a “single dose eliminates severe illness among those who contract the virus”, The Times reports.

The study throws more doubt on the German health ministry’s decision to advise against giving the vaccine to over-65s, a plan that goes against the recommendations of the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

What has Germany said?

A statement by the Standing Vaccine Commission at the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s main public health agency, said there were “insufficient data currently available to ascertain how effective the vaccination is above 65 years”.

The German decision results from the relatively small number of over-65s involved in the trial. AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soirot told La Repubblica this week that the initial trial group was younger because “it was not ethical to vaccinate old people until they had enough safety data”.

Soirot added: “The data is showing a good level of antibodies in elderly, as you see in younger people”.

What does that mean for the UK?

The trials of the vaccine “did recruit fewer elderly people overall”, writes the BBC’s health editor Michelle Roberts. However, “the scientists who ran the trials have always been upfront about this” and “say there is other evidence to suggest the vaccine will work well in older adults”.

“Studies show the over 65s have strong immune responses to the vaccine”, she adds. “After receiving the shots their blood has plenty of the required antibodies that can fight coronavirus.”

The new research published in The Lancet found that a single dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is 76% effective from day 22 to day 90 after the jab. The findings “support the government’s strategy that rolling out first doses - with a second dose after three months - is effective at reducing disease”, Sky News says.

Oxford University said earlier this month that there was “no basis” for reports in the German media questioning the vaccine’s efficacy, adding that their data has already been “released transparently”. AstraZeneca also reiterated the university’s denial, describing the claims as “completely incorrect”.

AstraZeneca told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle: “In November, we published data in The Lancet demonstrating that older adults showed strong immune responses to the vaccine, with 100% of older adults generating spike-specific antibodies after the second dose.”

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