One of the world’s leading Covid-19 experimental vaccines produces an immune response in older adults as well as the young, its developers say, raising hopes of protection for those most vulnerable to the coronavirus that has caused social and economic chaos around the world.

Neither Oxford University nor its commercial partner AstraZeneca would release the data from the early trials showing the positive effects, which are being submitted to a peer-reviewed journal. But AstraZeneca confirmed the basic findings about the vaccine it calls AZD1222, which were shared at a closed academic meeting.

The phase 2 trials have shown that people over the age of 56 – and some over 70 – produced the same sort of antibody response as younger volunteers. Whether older people would be protected has always been a key question for the vaccines being developed. The body’s natural immune system and therefore its ability to fight any virus weakens with age, which is why the Covid death rate rises in older people.

The data also show that fewer side-effects – referred to by the scientists as “reactogenicity” – were reported in the older volunteers, which is encouraging, although it could mean that fewer of them reported issues such as a sore arm.

“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,” said an AstraZeneca spokesman.

A vaccine that works is seen as a game-changer in the battle against coronavirus, which has killed more than 1.15 million people, shuttered swathes of the global economy and turned normal life upside down for billions of people. However, few think the first vaccines will be fully protective. They may instead reduce the severity of illness, so that people avoid hospital and deaths are reduced. They may also not last, so that boosters will be needed.

AstraZeneca said it hoped the vaccine may be ready for limited use within the coming months. “We anticipate efficacy read-outs from phase 2/3 trials between now and the end of the year, and if approved within countries, doses of the potential vaccine could be available for use before the end of the year,” said the spokesperson.

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Post by Amanda Scott, NA CEO.  Follow her on twitter @tantriclens

Thanks to Heinz V. Hoenen.  Follow him on twitter: @HeinzVHoenen