American surgeon general Jerome Adams said on Monday during a layover in Texas that a COVID-1
Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine appears to create as strong an immune response in older people as it does in young adults. This is a positive sign as many vaccines don’t work as well in the elderly.
A small study published Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the Modern COVID-19 vaccine elicited an immune system response almost as strong in people over 56 as it did in adults between the ages of 18 and 55.
“This is very promising but it’s also a bit surprising,” said David Dowling, an immunologist and professor at Harvard Medical School who studies vaccines.
Older people are at increased risk for serious COVID-19 disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People between the ages of 50 and 64 are four times more likely to be hospitalized and 30 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than people between the ages of 18 and 29. People between the ages of 65 and 74 are five times more likely to be hospitalized and 90 times more likely to die. The older the person, the greater the risk.
The Moderna study was led by researchers from Emory University in Atlanta and included two groups of 20 people each, one made up of people aged 56 to 70 and one from 71 and over. Participants were enrolled in Atlanta, Seattle and Bethesda, Maryland. The the results were compared with previously reported results among vaccine recipients aged 18 to 55 years.
“The immune responses were very comparable to those of young adults,” said Dr. Evan Anderson, professor of infectious diseases at Emory University Medical School and lead author of the paper.
Moderna’s experimental mRNA-1273 vaccine is now in clinical trial phase 3 in the United States. It is considered one of the first of four candidate vaccines currently being tested. There is still no data available on how well it protects people from getting COVID-19.
Having a vaccine that works well for older people could make a big difference in COVID-19 vaccine distribution. There have been concerns that any approved vaccine may not work as well in the elderly.
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It has long been known that a person’s immune system weakens with aging.
“As we age, our immune responses generally decline and a number of different vaccines tend to fail as we age. That’s why we have the high-dose flu vaccine for people aged 65 and over,” he said. Anderson. “The fact that that 100 microgram dose (of Moderna’s COVID vaccine) seemed to be enough to generate a similar immune response in older people is a very pleasant finding.”
If a higher dosage were needed for COVID-19, as with some flu vaccines, fewer doses would be available.
There have also been concerns that some vaccines may not work for the elderly at all, limiting their options or requiring them to wait until new vaccines are available. Another approach, the so-called “ring immunization” in which the person at risk is not vaccinated but everyone around them does, would also require more vaccines.
The results don’t show whether the experimental vaccine will give people immunity to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but they are “encouraging,” Anderson said.
The study included only 40 people, and nearly all of them were white, so the researchers recognized that a larger study population was needed to confirm the results. COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color.
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