A 69-year-old retiree receives his first injection as a participant in a phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial by Moderna at Accel Research Sites on Aug. 4, 2020 in DeLand, Florida./Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto
Vaccines that protect against COVID-19 are on the way. What should older adults expect?
The first candidates, from Pfizer and Moderna, could arrive before Christmas, according to Alex Azar, who heads the Department of Health and Human Services.
Both vaccines are notably effective in preventing illness due to the coronavirus, according to information released by the companies, although much of the data from clinical trials is still to come. Both have been tested in adults age 65 and older, who mounted a strong immune response.
Seniors in nursing homes and assisted living centers will be among the first Americans vaccinated, following recommendations last week by a federal advisory panel. Older adults living at home will need to wait a while longer.
Many uncertainties remain. Among them: What side effects can older adults anticipate and how often will these occur? Will the vaccines offer meaningful protection to seniors who are frail or have multiple chronic illnesses?
Here’s a look at what’s known, what’s not and what lies ahead.
Decision-making timetable. Pfizer’s vaccine will be evaluated by a 15-member Food and Drug Administration advisory panel on Thursday. Moderna’s vaccine is expected to go before the panel Dec. 17.
At least two days before each meeting, an analysis by FDA staff will be made public. This will be the first opportunity to see extensive data about the vaccines’ performance in large phase 3 clinical trials, including more details about their impact on older adults.
So far, summary results disclosed in news releases indicate that Pfizer’s vaccine, produced in partnership with BioNTech, has an overall efficacy rate of 95% and efficacy of 94% in people 65 and older. Moderna’s overall efficacy is 94%, with 87% efficacy in preventing moderate disease in older adults, according to Moncef Slaoui, chief science adviser to Operation Warp Speed, the government’s COVID-19 vaccine development program.