Pfizer vaccine produces ‘off the scale’ immune response, study finds

Vaccine works in the elderly and should protect them against variants, say scientists

Shaun Lintern
Health Correspondent
@ShaunLintern
Thursday 01 April 2021 20:20
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<p>A dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine  is administered at a clinic in the Derby Arena</p>

A dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine is administered at a clinic in the Derby Arena

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The Pfizer vaccine against coronavirus provides a high level of protection in older people and will work against new variants including the Brazilian version, a study has found.

Research by the University of Birmingham and Public Health England’s Porton Down laboratory tracked the immune response in people aged over 80.

Scientists said the vaccine delivered an “off the scale” immune response among recipients which meant it was likely to work against multiple variants of the virus.

The research, which is the biggest Pfizer study on antibody and cellular immune factors to date, found 98 per cent of people aged 80 or over who had two doses of the Pfizer jab had a strong antibody immune response.

A total of 100 people aged 80 to 96 were studied, having received their vaccine doses three weeks apart, before the policy of stretching the time between jabs to 12 weeks.

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Published in The Lancet, the research found people who had previously had natural Covid-19 infection had a peak antibody response after just one Pfizer vaccination.

Blood samples from all participants showed the original Wuhan strain was strongly neutralised after two doses of the jab.

While the effect was 14 times less when tested against the Brazilian variant, experts say that the immune response generated by the vaccine is still very high and enough to provide protection against that strain also.

The study found T cell responses – crucial to the immune system’s response to viral infection – developed in 63 per cent of the older people given two doses of the Pfizer jab.

Professor Paul Moss, from the University of Birmingham and leader of the UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium, told a briefing: “In terms of the variants and how we control them, people seem to be taking two broad approaches.

“We can develop another vaccine, a booster against these specific variants, so we perhaps have a South African booster vaccine.

“The other potential is that you boost your antibody levels so high from whatever vaccine you have that there’s enough to go around and you cope with the variant.

“We’ve certainly seen in this paper that the antibody levels are so good, really after the first two weeks, that we are pretty confident that this should be very helpful against the Brazilian variant.”

Asked if he is surprised how well the vaccines have worked in older people, he said: “We were. When we sent these samples to Porton Down they said, ‘We can't give you results right now because we’ve got to dilute them because they're so high, they’re off the scale’.

“The antibody levels were so high that they’d gone above the thresholds.”

But he added it will be crucial to see how long antibody levels are maintained.

He said : “It will be important to assess that and whether they wane at different rates in people of different ages.”

It comes as other new data from Pfizer suggests the vaccine is 100 per cent effective in preventing Covid-19 in South Africa.

Out of 800 people in the South African part of a Phase Three clinical trial, nine cases of Covid-19 were observed – all of whom were in the unvaccinated group.

Six of the nine were the South African strain. Pfizer says this demonstrates the jab can induce, “a robust neutralising antibody response to the (South African) variant”.

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