Dr Mary Ramsay, PHE’s head of immunisation said today she expects the vaccines to give ‘even stronger protection’ to younger age groups
The coronavirus vaccines being rolled out in Britain should perform even better in younger adults than the elderly and could ‘almost completely’ stop transmission, a top Government scientist said today.
Public Health England last night published its first major real-world analysis of the impact of the Pfizer and Oxford University vaccines on the UK’s epidemic.
The hugely encouraging data showed a single shot of either vaccine cut hospital rates in the over-80s by 80 per cent and stopped six in 10 people in the same age group from getting ill.
Dr Mary Ramsay, PHE’s head of immunisation who led the analysis, said today she expects the vaccines to give ‘even stronger protection’ to younger age groups.
But she claimed the jabs’ effect would not be as obvious in the figures because statistically younger people are less likely to die or fall ill with Covid in the first place.
Dr Ramsay also told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme there were ‘very good signs’ that the roll-out would cut infection rates across the nation. She added that she was hopeful that two doses ‘could prevent people passing it on almost completely’.
More than 20million Britons have now received their first dose of Covid vaccines, and about 800,000 people have been given both injections.
The most elderly have been prioritised, who have made up most of the deaths and hospital admissions, along with heath and social care staff and people with underlying health conditions.
Charts from the PHE analysis show how the number of vaccinated people testing positive for the disease plummets by about 60 per cent after a month
Results among over-80s who got both doses of the Pfizer vaccines show the risk of infection plummets more than 60 per cent after the first dose. Efficacy after both doses is more than 80 per cent
How the Pfizer (left) and Oxford (right) vaccines compare in all age groups after one dose: The British jab appears more effective when just a single dose is administered
Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning about PHE’s analysis, Dr Ramsay said: ‘We were able to show that even if people did get a case of Covid after having been vaccinated their risk of hospitalisation and of death are markedly reduced.’
On whether this is likely to be replicated down the age groups as the rollout reaches more younger people, she said: ‘Yes, if anything we would expect it to be a stronger protection from the vaccine.
Nine in 10 over-85s have Covid antibodies, says ONS
The success of England’s mammoth Covid vaccination drive was underscored today by official data that shows more than 90 per cent of over-85s now have antibodies.
Fascinating charts reveal how the proportion of elderly residents testing positive for the disease-fighting proteins — which signal they have a degree of immunity — has changed between the start of January and now.
Figures compiled by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show 22 per cent of over-85s in England had Covid antibodies at the start of 2021, before the inoculation roll-out began to rapidly pick up pace. But the rate stood at nearly 91 per cent on February 11, according to the most up-to-date estimate.
Data also showed a dramatic rise in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland among the same age group — but the ONS warned its estimates in the devolved nations were not as certain because they involved smaller sample sizes.
The report — which also showed one in four people overall had Covid antibodies in England, one in six in Wales and Northern Ireland and one in eight in Scotland — looked at blood samples taken from 30,000 over-16s across the country.
Rates were highest in London, where the ONS estimated 29 per cent of people had antibodies compared to just 16 per cent in the South West of England, the lowest in the UK.
As well as through vaccination, antibodies are also made in the blood when someone catches and recovers from the virus. But the length of time antibodies remain at detectable levels in the blood is not fully known, given that studies have shown they can fade after a few months.
‘The only difference obviously is that lower down in the age range is that people’s chances of being hospitalised and dying are much lower because this is a disease that has caused most of its morbidity in older people.
‘So we would not be able maybe to see the effect as markedly as we have been able to in this group that was vaccinated first.’
She added that ‘it really shows that the group we targeted was the right group for vaccination because this is the group where the deaths and hospitalisations were occurring.’
The PHE data also suggests the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which was the first to be approved and rolled out a month before the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab, leads to an 83 per cent reduction in deaths from Covid.
The team said they could not accurately predict the Oxford jab’s impact on deaths yet, because there had not been enough time and data since it was rolled out.
PHE also assessed protection against symptomatic COVID in those over 70. It found four weeks after the first jab, efficacy ranged between 57 to 61 per cent for the Pfizer vaccine and 60 to 73 per cent for the Oxford vaccine.
It comes as France announced it will start giving Oxford’s vaccine to over-65s in an humiliating U-turn for President Macron after he personally cast doubt on its effectiveness.
Olivier Veran, the French health minister, said yesterday that the jab will soon be made available to people age between 50 and 75 with underlying health issues that make them vulnerable to Covid.
The move is intended as a ‘first step’ towards making the vaccine available to all over-65s when the country’s vaccines agency publishes a new report on the jab, due some time this week.
The decision will pile pressure on other European countries which defied global health bodies by restricting the jab’s use in older people – including the likes of Germany and Sweden – to reverse their own policies.
It comes after a slew of real-world data showed the British-made Oxford jab reduces hospitalisations in over-65s by more than 80 per cent and it may be slightly more effective than the Pfizer vaccine, being mass produced in Europe.
The data flies in the face of remarks Macron made last month, when he said the vaccine was ‘quasi-ineffective’ in older people.
In a sign of growing frustration with Europe’s vaccine shambles, Denmark and Austria confirmed on Tuesday that they will both look outside of the Union for Covid vaccines in the future.
Austrian leader Sebastian Kurz said that he will visit Israel on Thursday along with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen to discuss future cooperation on vaccines. Israel is running the world’s fastest vaccination programme.
‘We must prepare for further mutations and should no longer be dependent solely on the EU in the production of second-generation vaccines,’ Kurz said.
France had previously restricted use of the AstraZeneca jab to those aged under 50 and healthcare workers.
However, the law allowed those aged 50 to 65 who had an underlying condition to get the Astra jab. All those aged over 75 had to be vaccinated using the Pfizer jab, even if they were in perfect health.
That created an ambiguous group, aged 65-75, who were too old to get the Astra jab but were not in the mandatory Pfizer group.
Mr Veran cleared up the ambiguity on Monday night by confirming that all those aged 50 to 75 with an underlying condition could have the Astra jab.
The move is expected to be a ‘first step’ towards recommending the Astra vaccine to everyone aged over 65, as the country’s regulator said it is preparing to change its guidance – though the final ruling has not yet been published.
Europe has mounted one of the world’s slowest vaccine roll-outs, plagued by bureaucratic red tape, supply issues and meddling by regulators that means it is unlikely to see an end to lockdowns any time soon.