Professor’s ‘worst-scenario’ for Covid vaccine protection in winter – ‘below 50 percent’

Covid: Study on vaccine effectiveness released in UK

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Mounting evidence shows that protection provided by two doses of either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine wanes over a number of months. A latest analysis of data from the ZOE COVID Study, which is home to millions of users, provides a more comprehensive picture of this decline. In light of the findings, Professor Tim Spector, lead scientist at the ZOE COVID Study has issued a “worst-case” scenario forecast for winter.

“A reasonable worst-case scenario could see protection below 50 percent for the elderly and healthcare workers by winter,” he warned.

“With high levels of infection in the UK, driven by loosened social restrictions and a highly transmissible variant, this scenario could mean increased hospitalisations and deaths.”

Prof Spector added: “We urgently need to make plans for vaccine boosters, and based on vaccine resources, decide if a strategy to vaccinate children is sensible if our aim is to reduce deaths and hospital admissions.”

Why are elderly and healthcare workers at a greater risk?

As the team behind the ZOE COVID Study explained, those who had their second dose five to six months ago will be older or vulnerable due to other health reasons, placing them at increased risk of COVID-19 compared to those vaccinated more recently.

The informed prediction for winter is based on data recorded by ZOE COVID Study app contributors who logged their Covid vaccinations between December 8, 2020 and July 31, 2021.

Researchers then looked to see whether any of these people reported a positive Covid test result between May 26 this year, when the Delta variant became dominant in the UK, and the end of July.

This analysis included:

  • 411,642 test results from users who were doubly vaccinated with the Pfizer mRNA vaccine at the time of the infection
  • 709,486 test results from users who were doubly vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine
  • 76,051 test results from users who were not yet vaccinated at the time of the infection.

The researchers found that initial protection against infection a month after the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine was 88 percent while after five to six months this fell to 74 percent.

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For the AstraZeneca vaccine, there was around 77 percent protection a month after the second dose, falling to 67 percent after four to five months.

It’s important to note that these figures have been adjusted to give an average risk of infection reduction across the population.

“But because we are all unique and our immune systems may respond in different ways to the vaccine, there will be variation in individual levels of immunity and infection risk,” the researchers note.

The findings build on the six month safety and effectiveness trial of the Pfizer vaccine, which was carried out when the original Alpha variant was dominant.

This trial showed that the jab provided a 96.2 percent reduction in infection risk up to two months after the second dose, with an 83.7 percent reduction after more than four months.

The ZOE COVID Study app findings show that in the real world there is a slightly lower level of protection to start with, as well as a more pronounced wane over time.

It is important to note that vaccines still provide high levels of protection for the majority of the population, especially against the Delta variant, so there is an urgent need to get as many people as possible fully vaccinated.

What’s more, not only does your vaccine help to protect you, it also protects those around you who aren’t yet vaccinated.

This includes children and people with weakened immune systems who don’t respond as well to the vaccine.

The discovery that vaccine-induced immunity against COVID-19 fades over time is not unexpected, although it might require a new vaccination strategy over the coming months.

COVID-19 vaccines are available for:

  • Everyone aged 16 or over
  • Some children aged 12 to 15 who have a higher risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19 or who live with someone at high risk of catching it.

You can:

  • Book your COVID-19 vaccination appointments online for an appointment at a vaccination centre or pharmacy
  • Find a walk-in COVID-19 vaccination site to get vaccinated without needing an appointment
  • Wait to be contacted by your GP surgery and book your appointments with them.

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