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‘European countries need to get on with using AstraZeneca vaccine to save lives’

Practice nurse Hannah Currie, 25, prepares a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine as Bradford Central Mosque is opened as a community COVID-19 vaccination centre. Pic by Peter Byrne

By Jane Kirby, PA Health Editor

European countries should “get on” with using the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in elderly people to save lives, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has said, as a new study found that a single dose gives remarkable protection.

Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol, presented new research on people over the age of 80 which found that one shot of either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Oxford vaccine prevented severe disease that would lead to hospital admission.

Urging other countries to use their stocks of the Oxford jab, he told a briefing: “The UK is well forward, this age group have been immunised now, we’re down into people in their 60s, we’ve achieved 90% uptake.

“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.”

The new study led by Prof Finn, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, involved elderly adults with pneumonia, Covid or another acute respiratory infection admitted to University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust (UHBW) and North Bristol NHS Trust (NBT).

It included 466 adults over 80, many of whom had other health problems and with around 90% regarded as frail.

The findings showed that one dose of Pfizer was 79.3% effective from 14 days after inoculation at preventing illness severe enough to require hospital admission.

Looking at the same time period, a single dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was 80.4% effective against the same level of illness in the same group, also from 14 days after vaccination.

Prof Finn said the study had been carried out in a different way from that released this week by PHE, but had found very similar results.

The PHE study found that both jabs reduced the chance of needing hospital treatment by more than 80% among the over-80s.

“I think what this does is provide confidence in the results overall,” Prof Finn said.

“I think their results confirm ours and our results confirm theirs.”

He said he expects the effectiveness to be even higher in younger age groups, and for the protection in all groups to be sustained until people get their second dose.

Commenting that the vaccines seem to work better against severe disease than mild disease, he added: “The broad message is that all of the studies are showing that both of these vaccines are really doing what we wanted them to do in the first place, which is to stop people coming into hospital and dying.”

Dr Catherine Hyams from the University of Bristol, who worked on the study which is due to be published in The Lancet, said: “Despite the frailty and age of these patients, one dose of either Pfizer or AstraZeneca is remarkably effective at reducing hospital admission and serious disease in these individuals.”

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