Vaccinations, not lockdown, lead to sharper decline in coronavirus among over-60s

Sarah Knapton
·3-min read
Israel vaccines  - Amir Cohen/Reuters
Israel vaccines - Amir Cohen/Reuters

Vaccinations caused a "larger and earlier" decline in coronavirus cases and hospitalisations in over-60s than lockdown, the first real-world study comparing the two interventions has found.

Last week, Boris Johnson said it was "very, very important" for the country to understand that the recent reductions in infections, admissions and deaths had "not been achieved by the vaccination programme" alone, arguing that lockdown had been "overwhelmingly important". 

There were just two deaths reported in England on Monday and four for Britain in total, with cases down by 10 per cent in a week and admissions down 12 per cent.

Watch: How England will leave lockdown

However, real world data from the Israeli vaccination programme shows that cases and hospitalisations in over-60s fell far faster in January and February when a significant proportion of the population had been vaccinated, compared to when the country was placed in lockdown in September.

A team from the Weizmann Institute of Science, in Rehovot, found that within 50 days of Israel’s third lockdown starting on January 8, there had been a 45 per cent decrease in positive cases in the over-60s compared to a 28 per cent decline in 20 to 39-year-olds.

Israel vaccines - Jack Guez/AFP
Israel vaccines - Jack Guez/AFP

Similarly, there was a 68 per cent reduction in hospitalisations in the over-60s in the same time period, compared to a 22 per cent drop in younger people.

When the country went into lockdown in September and October there was no difference in the declines in age groups.

The team also found that cities which vaccinated more people sooner saw earlier and faster drops in cases of coronavirus and hospital admissions in the over-60s.

In an article published in the journal Nature Medicine, the authors conclude: "A larger and earlier decrease in Covid-19 cases and hospitalisation was observed in individuals older than 60 years, followed by younger age groups, by the order of vaccination prioritization.

"Although multiple other factors besides the vaccines might have influenced these results, several observations suggest that these patterns are likely to be driven, to a considerable degree, by the vaccines.

"Our analysis demonstrates the real-life effect of a national vaccination campaign on the pandemic dynamics."

Israel’s vaccine rollout is one of the most successful in the world, with nearly five million people - or 53.5 per cent of the population - now fully immunised.

Watch: Covid vaccine passports - what can we learn from Israel?

On Monday, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, arrived in Israel to reportedly discuss vaccine passports.

The clear success of Israel’s programme is likely to increase pressure on the government to ease restrictions more quickly, particularly as rises in the number of cases as predicted by modelling have not emerged.

Last week, research from NHS England and the University of Manchester showed the stark difference in cases, admissions and deaths for elderly people who had been vaccinated compared to those who had not.

In a large study involving more than 170,000 people, results show that the rate of Covid-related hospital admissions fell by 75 per cent in vaccinated 80 to 83-year-olds within 35 to 41 days of their first dose of the Pfizer jab.

The rate of people getting Covid dropped by 70 per cent, with the number of positive tests falling from 15.3 per 100,000 people to 4.6.

The authors concluded: "The nationwide vaccination of older adults in England with the [Pfizer] vaccine reduced the burden of Covid-19."