One in five over-65s “won’t develop antibodies” even after two doses of Covid vaccine

“There is an expressive number of people, among the 2.3 million over-65s who have received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine against Covid-19, who are not protected”.

This is the bottom line coming out of a study by the Pharmaceutical Faculty of the University of Lisbon.

Say reports: “The conclusions are worrying scientists”.

To be fair, the writing has been on the wall for some time (exemplified by the various outbreaks in old people’s homes where all residents and staff are fully vaccinated; the hospitalisations and, in some cases, the deaths).

Says João Gonçalves, principal investigator with the Faculty’s R&D unit, the Institute of Investigation of Medication (Instituto de Investigação do Medicamento): “Unfortunately this study reveals that around 19% of people over the age of 65 never develop immunological protection.

“These numbers are worrying because we have to find these people, and then protect them from new infection…”

Explains Correio da Manhã this morning, the study’s findings followed a year in which 1,500 people aged between 20-90 were followed, specifically for their response to the Pfizer vaccine.

“The study found that antibodies present in all age groups acted equally against the Alfa variant (the one previously known as the British/ Kent variant) and the Delta (Indian), and to a lesser degree the Beta (South African) and Gamma (Brazilian) variants. People immunised developed defences that recognised other endemic coronaviruses, beyond SARS-CoV-2”, said the paper.

But four months on, results changed.

“When we tested participants’ blood samples around four months after the beginning of vaccination, the median level of inhibition was 80% in people under the age of 65, and 60% in those over the age of 65 – showing an elevated production of neutralising antibodies, but always less in older people”, explained João Gonçalves.

These findings have powered the DGS health authority decision to start rolling out booster shots in the over-65s from December, while in the United States another ‘solution’ under consideration is to inject the ‘most vulnerable’ with Covid antibodies.

Pfizer meantime has been continuing studies on its vaccine efficiency in younger age groups – “guaranteeing” that its current vaccine works well on the 5-11 age groups.

Portugal this far has not said anything official about vaccinating children under the ages of 12, but last week’s meeting at Infarmed saw interventions that suggest it is only a matter of time before this changes (click here).

The unsettling aspect of everyday reports is the continuance of ‘non-sequiturs’: for example, last week it was reported that 2nd generation vaccines are being developed (to address issues with current vaccines click here), while now news outlets are faithfully reporting that the Pfizer vaccine gives an ‘excellent immune response’ in age groups that are almost universally unaffected by SARS-CoV-2 infection.

To cap the surreal nature of these soundbites comes the news from Jornal i today that “projections point to a stable epidemic until December” – at which point there is expected to be an increase in new infections “albeit below numbers verified last year”.

The paper ends its story with the fact that Covid deaths this month have already exceeded those of September 2020 – (153 deaths in the whole of September last year versus 157 deaths this year in just over half the month…) And while the numbers of new infections are steadily appearing as dropping, data per age grouping shows that there has been “a new increase in diagnoses in people over the age of 80” compared to the week before.

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