Oxford University’s coronavirus vaccine triggers a ‘robust’ immune response in the elderly, a study has shown.
It suggests the group at highest risk of serious illness and death from the disease could be protected if given the jab.
The study found the vaccine prompted the release of antibodies and T-cells, which fight Covid-19, in people over-55.
While this finding on its own doesn’t prove the vaccine will work in preventing Covid-19 infection, it is more promising evidence that boosts its chances.
Previous research had proven the jab, currently the global frontrunner, could prompt an immune response in younger people, who are less affected by the disease.
The vaccine is currently in phase three clinical trials on tens of thousands of people around the world to assess whether it works in real-world scenarios.
In these studies, people are given a dose then researchers wait for them to get infected naturally and check if the vaccine was successful in preventing illness.
Its researchers say the jab could be ready by the end of the year and rolled out en masse by spring in 2021. Health Secretary Matt Hancock today refused to rule out getting the vaccine to the most vulnerable Britons before Christmas.
Oxford University’s coronavirus vaccine triggers a ‘robust’ immune response in the elderly, a study has shown (file)
The finding that elderly people enjoy an immune response when given the jab was revealed in data from phase two trials over summer.
The study has not been made public yet, but it has been discussed before its publication to build excitement about the jab.
In a statement, Oxford University said: ‘Professor (Andrew) Pollard discussed the early findings of the Phase II safety and immunogenicity trial of the ChAdOx1 nCov-2019 Oxford coronavirus vaccine at a research conference.
Oxford University stands to make hundreds of millions of pounds after negotiating 6% cut of any profits made from Covid-19 vaccine if it’s proven to work
Oxford University stands to make hundreds of millions of pounds if its coronavirus vaccine proves successful.
The prestigious university has negotiated a 6 per cent cut in any royalties from its Covid-19 jab, which is currently the global front-runner.
Bosses at Oxford made the deal with AstraZeneca – the UK pharmaceutical giant that will manufacture and distribute the vaccine – to avoid repeating mistakes in the past. The last time the university saved the world from deadly infections, through its development of penicillin in 1940, it was not savvy enough to make money from it.
AstraZeneca has promised the first 3billion doses of the Covid-19 jab will be supplied at cost, meaning it will not look to make profit. But the vaccine may have to be taken annually – like the flu jab – to give a booster shot as immunity diminishes.
If Oxford’s jab remains the best, or only, candidate proven to be effective then the university could therefore make hundreds of millions of pounds.
Oxford University has said any royalties will be ‘reinvested directly back into medical research, including a new pandemic preparedness and vaccine research centre’.
Its vaccine is currently in phase three clinical trials on tens of thousands of people around the world, and its researchers say the jab could be ready by the end of the year and rolled out en masse by spring in 2021.
‘These early results covering trial volunteers from the UK in the 56-69 and 70+ age groups have been submitted to a peer-review journal, and we hope to see their publication in the coming weeks.
‘Our ongoing trials will provide further data, but this marks a key milestone and reassures us that the vaccine is safe for use and induces strong immune responses in both parts of the immune system in all adult groups.’
The vaccine is being manufactured and distributed by the UK pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca.
An AstraZeneca spokesperson added: ‘It is encouraging to see immunogenicity responses were similar between older and younger adults and that reactogenicity was lower in older adults, where the Covid-19 disease severity is higher.
‘The results further build the body of evidence for the safety and immunogenicity of AZD1222.’
Earlier, the UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that his ‘central expectation’ is that the majority of the rollout of a vaccine could be under way in the first half of 2021.
But he refused to rule out any possibility that people could start receiving a vaccine this side of Christmas.
Mr Hancock told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme that the vaccine programme was ‘progressing well’.
Asked how soon NHS staff could be injected with a vaccine, he said: ‘Well, we’re not there yet.
‘The vaccine programme is progressing well. We’re in very close contact with the leading candidates.
‘On my central expectation, I would expect the bulk of the rollout to be in the first half of next year.’
Asked if there could be some this year, he said: ‘Well, I don’t rule that out, but that is not my central expectation.’
Clinical trials for Covid-19 vaccines are ongoing. Some have speculated that two vaccine candidates will report data to regulators this year.
When asked about reports that hospitals are preparing to vaccinate staff, Mr Hancock added: ‘We want to be ready in case everything goes perfectly.’
‘But it’s not my central expectation that we’ll be doing that this year. The true answer to your question is, we don’t know.
‘We don’t know when the first vaccine will be available but my central expectation is in the first half of next year.
‘Nevertheless, we’re doing the preparatory work now for how that will be rolled out – the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations has set out the order of priority; and we’re doing the logistical work – led by the NHS working with the armed services who are playing an important role in the logistics of it to ensure that we have that rollout programme ready.
‘But, you know, preparing for a rollout and actually having the stuff to roll out are two different things.
‘It’s obviously something that we want to happen as soon as safely can be done. And as fast as safely can be done, but we are not there yet.’