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BSI response to new Public Health England data on COVID vaccine effectiveness

1 March 2021

Public Health England have released new data on the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout programme in people aged 70 and over.  The data released relates to both the Pfizer (BNT162b2) and Oxford/AstraZeneca (ChAdOx1) COVID vaccines and shows that these vaccines both significantly reduce symptomatic cases and hospitalisations after one dose. In response, the British Society for Immunology has released the following statement. 

Professor Deborah Dunn-Walters, Chair of the British Society for Immunology COVID-19 and Immunology Taskforce and Professor of Immunology at the University of Surrey, said:

“The data published tonight by Public Health England is very promising and is some of the first real-world data to emerge showing the effect of COVID-19 vaccines.  The central aim of all vaccination campaigns is to stop people getting seriously ill and save lives.  These new results, studying over 2 million people, show that both the Pfizer and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines are stopping people suffering symptoms from COVID disease and stopping them being hospitalised after one dose. The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine also reduces the likelihood of dying from the disease. (It will take longer to get data on this measure on the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine as this vaccine was rolled out later.)

“These findings are particularly welcome news due to the age range of the participants who were all aged 70 and over.  Previous clinical trials for both vaccines have not included many individuals from this age range. This is important because as we get older, our immune systems don’t function as well as they did when we were younger, meaning that older people sometimes produce lower immune responses to vaccination. The fact that vaccination is effective in significantly reducing symptomatic cases, hospitalisations and deaths from COVID-19 in this older age group is really positive news. Although more research is needed, this study also provides further reassurance around the UK’s decision to offer the two doses of the vaccine 12 weeks apart.

“While this new data is encouraging, we still have much more that we need to understand about how effective these vaccines are against transmission and against some of the newer variants, along with needing a deeper immunological understanding of the components of immune memory generated. We look forward to seeing the detail of today’s welcome funding commitment for more research. While we can all take heart from the positive news on vaccine effectiveness in this study, we should not be complacent.  It is still critical that we all make sure we get two doses of the COVID vaccine within 12 weeks to ensure the best and longest lasting protection against disease.”

This statement is based on new data on the COVID vaccination programme released by Public Health England on 1 March 2021. The press release can be found here and the preprint can be read at: Bernal et al. Early effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccination with BNT162b2 mRNA vaccine and ChAdOx1 adenovirus vector vaccine on symptomatic disease, hospitalisations and mortality in older adults in the UK: a test negative case control study