Health

Covid vaccines: Oxford and Pfizer first doses just as effective in elderly with underlying illness

One dose of the Covid jabs being deployed in Britain are up to 80 per cent effective at stopping already-ill elderly people from being hospitalised with the disease, fresh research shows.

Earlier this week, the first real-world analysis of the Oxford and Pfizer jabs in England found a single injection prevented eight in 10 over-80s from falling severely sick with the virus.

The latest study, by the University of Bristol, suggests the first dose works just as well in people of the same age who also have multiple underlying health woes. Scientists said the results were significant because they were in people least expected to be protected by the vaccine. 

They found the Oxford University/AstraZeneca jab prevented around 80.4 per cent of patients from being hospitalised with Covid two weeks after the first dose. A single shot of Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine was estimated to be 79.3 per cent effective after 14 days. 

Researchers looked at 460 over-80s who had pneumonia or lung diseases, both of which make them extremely vulnerable to Covid. Many also had other conditions which drove up their risk even further.

Professor Adam Finn, a medical expert at Bristol who led the research and a member of the UK’s top vaccine advisory panel, said he expects the effectiveness of the jabs to be even higher in younger age groups.

Age is the biggest risk factor for the coronavirus and the vast majority of deaths and hospitalisations are in elderly people, which is why the UK prioritised jabs for over-80s and care home residents.

But having underlying health conditions also drives up the risk of the virus, which is why Britons with conditions such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes came after the elderly on the priority list.

A catalogue of data has confirmed the Covid vaccines in Britain’s arsenal, even after just one dose, are even more effective in the real world than scientists could have hoped. 

Covid deaths in England are falling faster than gloomy SAGE advisers thought they would, through a combination of the vaccine roll out and lockdown, and some SAGE scientists have started to come round to the idea of easing restrictions faster. 

The study involved elderly adults admitted to University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust (UHBW) and North Bristol NHS Trust (NBT) over December and January.

It included 466 people over 80, of whom 90 per cent were regarded as either frail or completely dependent on a carer.

‘Many’ of the patients were also suffering from other serious health conditions and diseases, the researchers said.

‘Crude’ and flawed formula used to divvy up Covid vaccine supplies around the UK 

A ‘crude’ and controversial algorithm is being used to divvy up Covid jab supplies around the UK, MailOnline can reveal.

Department of Health bosses today confirmed officials deployed the Barnett formula to decide how many doses should be allocated to the devolved nations. 

The method — used in the Treasury since the 1980s to distribute public funding — is widely recognised as being flawed because it looks almost solely at population size. 

The Taxpayers’ Alliance pressure group previously described the formula as a ‘crude, back-of-the-envelope rule’ because it doesn’t consider different needs in different areas. 

It also doesn’t account for a range of other factors, such as the number of elderly people, rates of poverty and ill health — all of which make people vulnerable to Covid and bump them up the vaccine priority list. 

The decision to use the strategy means England is receiving 84.1 per cent of vaccine shipments from Pfizer and AstraZeneca, Scotland 8.3 per cent, Wales 4.8 per cent and Northern Ireland 2.9 per cent. 

A source told MailOnline that the devolved nations agreed that, despite its flaws, the Barnett formula was ‘the most efficient method of vaccine allocation across the UK’, given the urgency of the pandemic.  

Public health experts said the UK’s jab allocation strategy ‘should have been stratified’ so areas with larger elderly populations, like Wales, got more doses quicker.

But Professor Gabriel Scally, former director of public health for the South West of England, told MailOnline the success of the roll-out had ‘probably nullified’ any flaws in the Government’s approach. 

Despite fears the Barnett formula could lead to some areas lagging behind due to fewer supplies of vaccines, latest official figures show the home nations are jabbing at roughly the same rate. 

Scotland has already given first doses to 97 per cent of over-70s, while England and Wales have jabbed 96 and 92 per cent of elderly residents, respectively. Equivalent age-related data for Northern Ireland is not yet available.    

Experts said the slightly lower uptake in Wales’ uptake was unlikely to be significant enough to be attributed to the formula.

More than 20million people across the UK have been given the initial injection and 800,000 have received both doses. 

A successful roll-out and high uptake is at the heart of Boris Johnson’s lockdown-easing plans, with a smooth programme essential to restrictions being relaxed fully by June. 

A UK Government spokesperson said: ‘We have secured and purchased vaccines on behalf of the whole of the United Kingdom.

‘And with over 20million people already vaccinated nationwide, the vaccines programme underlines the strength of our great union and what we can achieve together.’

Professor Finn said the findings were significant because they showed the ‘oldest and frailest’ who would be the least likely to mount an immune response against Covid were still being protected by the vaccines. 

He added that despite the study being carried out in a different way from the Public Health England’s analysis earlier this week, it found very similar results.

The PHE study found both jabs reduced the chance of needing hospital treatment by more than 80 per cent among the over-80s, but it did not look at underlying health issues.

‘I think what this does is provide confidence in the results overall,’ Professor Finn said. ‘I think their results confirm ours and our results confirm theirs.’ 

Meanwhile, the Bristol professor, who is a member of the Government’s vaccine advisory group, also took a swipe at European counties who initially said Oxford’s jab shouldn’t be given to elderly people, telling them they need to now ‘get on’ with it.  

Countries including France and Germany initially did not approve the vaccine for over-65s because trials of the jab mainly looked at younger and healthier people – despite assurances from the EU’s regulator and the World Health Organization.

France has since reversed its decision, but the initial policy has left the country’s vaccine roll out severely lagging. 

France has taken delivery of 7.7million doses since the roll-out began in December but only distributed half – with just four per cent of the population getting any immunity at all.

Germany is having similar problems, with around just 200,000 AstraZeneca shots having been administered out of 1.5million due to have been delivered by last week.

Professor Finns said: ‘In the short term, the job’s done in the UK. But there are lots of doses of AstraZeneca vaccine available in European countries, and they are not being given to people over the age of 65, in some cases in countries over the age of 55, for lack of data. 

‘Well, here are the data. There are data from Public Health England and Scotland and now from us, showing that you can save lives in elderly people by giving them a dose of AstraZeneca vaccine.

‘And those countries need to get on and start doing that as fast as possible.’

In further positive news, Covid deaths in England are falling faster than gloomy SAGE advisers thought they would, official data show.

Models produced by the SPI-M group of scientists predicting the future of the Covid outbreak in February suggested the daily death count would stay above 200 until mid-March.

But the average number of victims recorded each day had dropped below this level before the end of February, statistics show.

Experts told The Telegraph the progress is ‘better than expected’ and suggested the Government’s ‘data not dates’ approach could see relaxations brought forward. 

The vaccine rollout has made immense progress, with 20million people now vaccinated across the UK, and studies suggest the jabs are working better than expected, preventing between 85 and 94 per cent of hospitalisations.

SPI-M’s prediction was more pessimistic about how well the vaccine would work and whether it would stop transmission, which may explain why its estimates are gloomier than the reality.

Under current plans, schools will reopen next Monday, and people will be allowed to meet in groups of six outdoors from March 29.

Boris Johnson has committed to moving cautiously and slowly out of the current restrictions, insisting that they will be ‘irreversible’ this time.

But Professor Mark Woolhouse, an infectious disease expert at Edinburgh University and adviser to SAGE, said going slowly ‘is not a cost-free option’ and the other health and economic impacts of lockdown would be worse the longer the rules lasted.

A monthly projection given to SAGE on February 10 suggested coronavirus deaths in England would fall from around 600 per day to 200 by the second week of March, around the 10th or 12th of the month.

The fall in daily deaths would be slowing this month, the researchers predicted, and would drop to around 150 per day by March 21. 

But the average number of deaths recorded each day had already fallen to 157 by Monday, March 1, three weeks ahead of the experts’ best guess.

The average is calculated from the death counts on the day on which it falls and the previous six days.

The most recent days may be artificially low because it can take a week or more for all death reports to be recorded, but deaths by date of death are in the low 200s in the most recent reliable figures, relating to late February. 

Government figures suggest the daily death count in England has a halving time of around two weeks, meaning it could drop to fewer than 80 per day by March 21.

It is falling even faster in the very elderly, who were the first to be vaccinated and more than 90 per cent of over-80s are now thought to have some immunity.

And the 99 deaths announced on Monday, March 1, was the lowest number since October 26 (90), before the second wave took off.

Experts said the success of the vaccine programme had outstripped expectations and could lead to a British unlocking ahead of schedule.

More than 20.4million people have had at least one dose of a vaccine so far and the programme is three months in, meaning that millions of people are now protected from Covid – studies suggest the jabs are proving very effective.

Professor David Spiegelhalter, a statistician at the University of Cambridge, said: ‘We all sort of hoped something like this might happen but, frankly, it is better than anyone expected, I think.’


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