Scientists say the Oxford vaccine appears to create a ‘strong’ immune response in elderly participants, amid cautious hopes that the candidate could be rolled out in the coming months.
Experts have warned that there is still a long way to go before the vaccine is cleared for use, but information from an earlier stage of the Oxford University and AstraZeneca vaccine candidate trial also suggests ‘similar’ immune responses in younger and older adults.
It is currently in a phase three clinical trial, which means the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine is being tested on thousands of participants across various different countries, with experts ‘reassured’ that it appears to be safe.
Data on the responses of those taking part in the phase two vaccine trial has been submitted for peer review. But the findings have already sparked discussions before publication – prompting more excitement about the vaccine, which is thought to be a forerunner in the race for a Covid-19 vaccine.
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Data from the trial could be presented to regulators within weeks.
It comes as the Health Secretary said that the ‘bulk’ of the rollout of a coronavirus vaccine could occur before next summer.
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.
In a statement, Oxford University explained: ‘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.
‘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.’
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.’
On Monday, 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.’Matt Hancock 'breaks coronavirus rules' by not wearing mask in hospital
Clinical trials for other Covid-19 vaccines are also 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.’
But Mr Hancock says preparations are ongoing for how the vaccine will be rolled out to NHS staff.
Southampton University’s head of clinical and experimental sciences within medicine, Professor Robert Read, said: ‘Previous data had shown the vaccine induces an immune response in younger people – it sounds like there is early data suggesting the same happens in older adults, which would be reassuring, but we haven’t seen the data yet.
‘This is very encouraging, but we still need to wait a little longer for information on protection from natural disease and overall safety in field trials.
‘The fact that reactogenicity – adverse events after vaccination, such as sore arm/fever etc – is said to be relatively low in older adults is also very reassuring.’
But Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, warned: ‘It is wise to not be too optimistic until those trials have completed.’
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