A vaccine against COVID-19 may not be as effective in the elderly, who are most at risk of suffering complications and dying from the disease, according to researchers in the United Kingdom. However, some experts say that vaccination of elderly people can help to protect them.
Speaking before the committee on science and technology of the House of Lords in London, the United Kingdom, the researchers said that the targeting of different groups of the population with vaccines should be studied more closely as the world will bring these countries to develop a vaccine against the new coronavirus.
“Sometimes, it is possible to protect a vulnerable group targeting another group and this, by, for example, is done with the flu. In recent years, the Uk has been at the forefront of the deployment of the live-attenuated vaccine for children “, professor Peter Openshaw of Imperial College London said at the committee hearing earlier this week.
Openshaw said that the administration of the seasonal influenza vaccine by nasal spray to children who do not suffer often flu severe helps to protect their grandparents, for example.
The same thing could be said for the vaccine COVID-19, a-t-he added.
Dr Eleanor Fish, professor of immunology at the University of Toronto, told CTVNews.ca a vaccine against the coronavirus may not work on older people because their immune system is “not as robust” as that of young people.
“If you are immunosuppressed or if your immune system is weaker than it should be, your body may not have the capacity to respond adequately to the vaccine,” said Fish during a phone interview Wednesday.
During the examination of the vaccine against the seasonal flu, Fish has stated that the elderly generally receive a higher dose of flu vaccine so that their immune system has a better chance to recognize and respond to the vaccine.
However, she warns that there is still a lot of unknowns in regards to a vaccine COVID-19.
“We don’t know if any of the vaccines under development will be effective. We don’t know if … antibodies key and neutralizing antibodies will be effective against the virus, ” said Fish.
“But if we assume that there will be an effective vaccine [for] adults in good health, and assume that healthy adults taking the vaccine, it is possible that the vaccine does not induce a response in the elderly. ”
While some of the candidates for the vaccine against the coronavirus show promising results, the scientists of the United Kingdom stated that more research must be done to understand what is going wrong with the immune system as people age, which makes them more susceptible to communicable diseases.
Arne Akbar, professor of immunology at University College London and president of the British Society of Immunology, said during the hearing that a better understanding of the aging of the immune system is not only important for COVID-19, but also for other diseases.
“One thing that is apparent, even in the elderly in good health, it is that there is more inflammation all around the body. We need to understand where does this inflammation, ” said Akbar. “And this inflammation of a base in the elderly is related to the fragility and many negative results as we age. And this seems to be exacerbated when you contract a serious infection like COVID-19. ”
“But what is the source of the inflammation in the first place? This is something that we really need to control “, he added.
Fish said that for a vaccine to COVID-19 works in the elderly, they may need a higher dose of the vaccine require booster shots extra every two months, or having to use it in combination with another treatment.
We don’t know who will be the first to receive the vaccine, but those who are more likely to be infected would probably be inoculated first, according to Kerry Bowman, éthicienne clinician at the University of Toronto.
Bowman said Wednesday that the health care workers, other first responders and the elderly could be among the first.
However, given that the immune system of the elderly is lower, Bowman said that it might be more effective to vaccinate all those who may come into contact with the elderly.
“What can be done is to immediately create a zone of protection around the elderly… Make sure that the people working in the institutions of long-term care are immediately vaccinated in order to protect these elderly people. And then the families which have elderly people that they ‘re taking care of or regularly visit,” said Bowman in a telephone interview with CTVNews.ca.
Although this may help protect the elderly, Fish stated that it would be as if the vaccine was effective.
“We need to be convinced that we have a vaccine that is 100% effective, so that you can build this wall of immunity,” said Fish. “As long as we don’t know what is going on with the vaccine and how effective it is, we do not know with certainty how it will affect the elderly. ”
Bowman said that among the vaccines which are moving towards human trials, none uses of older persons in their research because of the potential risk.
When Canada receives a vaccine, Bowman said that the demand will be high and that there will be ethical questions on who will receive it first.
“If we receive a vaccine, it will be useful, but it may not be useful for some of the most vulnerable people,” said Bowman.
It is not yet known what level of immune response is needed to protect humans against the COVID-19, but Fish said that the development of vaccines to fight the virus is always important.
“Imagine that we had one or two vaccines in the next 6 months? This will change the face of COVID-19, no matter who takes it, ” said Fish.