LONDON: Pfizer UK Launch Inc.
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The Covid-19 vaccine has led to a substantial drop in infections in people 80 and older, according to preliminary data adding to a growing body of evidence that injections provide significant, if not complete, protection against the disease.
The UK data, released Monday, is preliminary and has not been reviewed by other scientists. It provides cause for optimism that vaccines offer a route out of a pandemic that has claimed at least 2.5 million lives worldwide and sickened tens of millions.
The new data includes an analysis of the effect of vaccines in the elderly, a study looking at infection among vaccinated and unvaccinated healthcare workers, and a broad view of vaccines in Scotland that covered more than five million people. .
England’s public health agency said an injection of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech led to a 57% reduction in Covid-19 cases in people aged 80 and over, compared to what would have been expected if they would not have received an injection. This increased to 88% after a second dose.
Hospitalization rates fell 41% just 14 days after the injection, and the chance of dying from the disease more than halved among those immunized.
A separate analysis of healthcare workers showed that the vaccine reduced Covid-19 infections by 72% three weeks after one dose, increasing to 86% after a second injection. The apparent protection offered is less than suggested in the unusual conditions of clinical trials, a result that scientists expected in a real-world implementation. Similarly, the scientists said it’s not a surprise that protection appears lower in the very elderly, a phenomenon seen with other vaccines.
The UK government said there was not enough data yet to give a reading of the effectiveness of a vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca PLC, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson said preliminary evidence suggests that it also offers “a good protection level “. against disease.
The data was released on the day the UK government outlined a plan for England to slowly emerge from a lockdown in force since January 4. It will begin with the reopening of schools on March 8. The government aims to remove most of the social distancing restrictions by June. 21 at the earliest. All British people will be offered vaccinations at the end of July.
Researchers in Scotland released a preliminary analysis of 5.4 million medical records early Monday showing similar results. They found that Covid-19 hospitalizations were 85% lower among those who received a single dose of the Pfizer injection one month after the injection, compared to those who did not get vaccinated. A single dose of AstraZeneca injection led to a 94% reduction in hospitalizations.
The data from the vaccine launch in the UK, where around a third of the population have received a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine so far, does not answer the question of whether the vaccines cut transmission of the disease.
The data echoes positive findings from Israel, one of the few countries that has inoculated a greater proportion of its population against coronavirus than the UK. Initial findings appear to justify the UK government’s decision to focus on give single shots of the vaccine to a wider range of people.
However, scientists cautioned that it is too early to say how long the protection conferred by the vaccine will last. Another uncertainty is whether the virus will mutate and render current vaccines ineffective.
The UK data paints a similar picture to preliminary real-world data from Israel. A preliminary analysis published online and not yet reviewed by other scientists looked at infection and hospitalization rates among people over 60 in Israel, the first group given priority for vaccination, and younger age groups in the world. month until February 6.
The authors found that the number of people over the age of 60 admitted to hospital with Covid-19 was more than a third lower than on January 15. New cases among that age group were almost cut in half. Cases and hospitalizations among the younger age groups increased during the same period. A separate study found that vaccinated people had much lower levels of the virus in their bodies, implying that the injection reduces the risk of infection.
Another study, published Feb. 14 by Clalit, Israel’s largest healthcare provider, recorded 94% fewer symptomatic Covid-19 infections among 600,000 people who received two doses of the vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech compared to a unvaccinated group of the same size. The vaccinated group was also 92% less likely to develop serious illness from the disease.
In the US, the proportion of Covid-19 cases accounted for by nursing home residents steadily declined during the first six weeks of the year, an early sign that the vaccination campaign is working. Nursing home residents and staff were among the first to receive vaccinations.
No major Western nation has approved or deployed vaccines as fast as the UK. The country began distributing the Pfizer vaccine in December to people over 80 and health care workers. Britain is on track to offer vaccines to everyone 50 and older by the end of April.
Despite the largely positive findings, the UK is still under lockdown and several months from full reopening, a reminder that even with a fast-track vaccination program it can take time for life to return to normal. The prime minister recently warned that no vaccine is 100% effective and that high levels of infection could still lead to high death rates.
Although the data shows a vaccine efficiency below the 95% shown in Pfizer trials, government scientists were optimistic about the findings. In the UK, the group that got the vaccine was mostly people aged 70 and over who have weaker immune systems than their younger peers. The clinical trials focused primarily on people 55 and younger.
It’s normal for vaccines to trigger a slightly weaker immune response, as they are initially implemented among the elderly, said Jeremy Brown, who advises the government. Another reason government advisers are optimistic is that the trial results point to the vaccines being highly effective in preventing serious illness and death from Covid-19, added Professor Brown, easing pressure on the system. health of the country.
Scientists have said that new variants of the virus, including one from South Africa that has been found in the UK and has shown some resistance to existing vaccines, will require the development of second- and third-generation injections. Johnson said he anticipates that those vulnerable to the disease will need to receive an updated booster dose in the fall.
The successful launch of the vaccine justifies the British government’s decision to go big and early on vaccines. In April of last year, when the first wave of the pandemic peaked, the government’s top scientific adviser decided that a specialized vaccine task force needed to be established. The government went on to obtain 400 million doses from seven different pharmaceutical companies. Regulators in the UK have already approved three vaccines for use.
The data also supports another British gamble: British officials decided to distribute limited initial vaccine supplies more finely by widening the gap between doses up to 12 weeks of just three recommended by Pfizer and four by AstraZeneca.
The decision, questioned by American scientists and some British doctors, but recently endorsed in the AstraZeneca case by the World Health Organization, has helped the country reach the goal of offering a first dose to the four most vulnerable groups by the 15th. February, accounting for 88% of deaths from the disease, said the UK government.
—Joanna Sugden contributed to this article.
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