Oxford team "delighted" as trials show COVID vaccine works well in older adults, but they're "not in a rush"

Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine showing effectiveness in older adults
Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine showing effectiven... 02:45

Oxford, England — The most recent data from human trials shows the COVID-19 vaccine being developed by Oxford University and British pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca is safe, and most importantly, it works well in the most vulnerable set of patients.

Peer-reviewed evidence published in The Lancet medical journal on Thursday shows the Oxford vaccine not only triggers the robust immune response they'd hoped for but packs a powerful punch where it's needed most: in older adults.

The ongoing trials have found the vaccine is actually tolerated even better in older people than younger people.

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For the analysis published on Thursday, outside researchers scrutinized Oxford's Phase 2 study involving 560 adults, including 240 people over the age of 70. That group is known to be at significantly higher risk of severe disease and death with the coronavirus — they're the patients most likely to fill over-stretched ICU hospital wards, and they've been earmarked to receive the vaccine first.

"The robust antibody and T-cell responses seen in older people in our study are encouraging," said Oxford University's Dr. Maheshi Ramasamy, the co-author of The Lancet study. "We hope that this means our vaccine will help to protect some of the most vulnerable people in society, but further research will be needed before we can be sure."  

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Good news announced over the past week from Pfizer and Moderna about their vaccines, which are even further down the road in trials and will soon apply with the U.S. government for emergency use authorization, was a boost for Oxford's vaccine, too, as those vaccines use a similar approach. All three vaccines focus on the new coronavirus' spike protein, the part that allows it to attach to human cells, thus causing an infection.

While the Oxford team uses a different biochemical process, the goal is the same: All three vaccines aim to trick the body into mounting an immune response that remembers this particular coronavirus, should it attack, to prevent it from attaching to cells.

How long that immune response will last still isn't completely clear, but researchers are increasingly optimistic that the vaccines will remain effective for up to a year, if not longer, after the recommended dose.

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The Oxford team said Thursday that, while the trials haven't proven efficacy yet, as Pfizer and Moderna have announced, they're "delighted" with the results and they hope to have their own Phase 3 trial data to bring them up to speed with the others in the coming weeks.

Chief investigator on the Oxford vaccine team, Professor Andrew Pollard, said the news was encouraging, but "we're not in a rush."

He insisted that Oxford and AstraZeneca were "not in competition with the other developers - what we're trying to do is make sure we have very high quality data… when it's ready, that's when we'll provide the interim results."