A single dose of Covid vaccine cuts the risk of hospital admission among older adults by as much as 80 per cent, new official figures suggest.
Data released by the government shows those aged 70 and over given their first shot of the Oxford/AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccine were much less likely to become seriously ill.
Described by the government as “exciting”, the results are good news for the UK’s vaccine programme, which has prioritised giving as many vulnerable and older people a single shot of vaccine as possible.
It will also be of interest to other European countries, who have been slower to approve the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in particular for use in older people.
While a second shot of vaccine is required for full protection from both vaccines, the success of the rollout means that “Covid admissions to intensive care units among people over 80 in the UK have dropped to single figures in the last couple of weeks”, health secretary Matt Hancock said.
Mr Hancock told a Downing Street press conference that “a single shot of either the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine or of the Pfizer vaccine works against severe infection among the over-70s with a more than 80 per cent reduction in hospitalisations”.
“This is extremely good news,” he added.
“In fact, the detailed data show that the protection that you get from catching Covid 35 days after a first jab is even slightly better for the Oxford jab than for Pfizer, albeit both results are clearly very strong.”
Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said the “bold” decision to delay the second dose so more older people could be protected by a single dose more quickly had “undoubtedly” saved many lives.
He said: “These real world results from Public Health England demonstrate a very good effect from both vaccines after the first dose.
“The Covid vaccination strategy was designed to prevent as many deaths as quickly as possible.
“The bold decision to vaccinate more older people by delaying the second dose has undoubtedly saved a large number of lives.”
Mr Hancock said the number of admissions to hospital was falling faster than that of the number of cases – particularly among the older age groups who were vaccinated first.
“This is a sign that the vaccine is working,” he said.
Mr Hancock pointed to a similar clear fall in deaths among over-80s, which is outstripping a slower decline among other age groups.
Dr Mary Ramsay, Public Health England’s head of immunisation, said of the study: “This adds to growing evidence showing that the vaccines are working to reduce infections and save lives.
“While there remains much more data to follow, this is encouraging and we are increasingly confident that vaccines are making a real difference.
“It is important to remember that protection is not complete and we don’t yet know how much these vaccines will reduce the risk of you passing Covid-19 on to others.
“Even if you have been vaccinated, it is really important that you continue to act like you have the virus, practise good hand hygiene and stay at home.”