independent– Covid antibody levels are falling among people aged over 70, fuelling further questions about when the government’s vaccine “booster” programme will be rolled out.
New data from the Office for National Statistics shows that, although immunity remains high in the elderly, there has been a decline in the number of people of this age testing positive for antibodies.
Ninety-two per cent of over-eighties still have antibodies to fight against coronavirus, a decrease from 94.4 per cent in July.
Experts think these numbers will continue to fall and some are concerned about the downward trend leading up to the winter months.
Dr Quinton Fivelman, of the London Medical Laboratory, said: “Because the most elderly and vulnerable were the first people to receive both jabs, they are the first to begin losing their level of protection, just as colder weather approaches.
“Covid levels are likely to climb during the autumn and winter, and we will see this compounded with other illnesses like flu.
“Those who are most frail must not be the first to lose vital protection. So far, only the most vulnerable 1 per cent of society are certain to receive a third jab, those with a severely weakened immune system. It’s now September and we are still waiting to find out about who else will receive a booster jab.”
The ONS report, released on Wednesday, said: “Our survey shows that in recent weeks up to the week beginning 9 August 2021, the percentage of adults testing positive for antibodies increased or remained high for all age groups but is starting to decline slightly in the older age groups across all four UK countries.”
It continued: “Since the end of July 2021, antibody positivity has decreased among those aged 70 years and over.”
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) announced on Wednesday that third doses would be given to about half a million extremely vulnerable Britons, but a decision has not been announced on the long-awaited autumn booster programme.
Scientists were urged to speed up the booster vaccinations for adults, with the chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, Jeremy Hunt, saying that extra jabs were “clearly working” in Israel. He added: “The clear lesson for the UK seems to be get on with booster jabs, not just for the clinically vulnerable but for everyone.”
Professor Carl Heneghan, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford, said falling antibody numbers among the elderly were “not that unexpected”.
“As we get older our immune systems gradually deteriorate – a process referred to as immunosenescence that starts at or about the age of 60,” he told The Independent.
This means that the elderly’s immune response to acute infections declines over time, as does the long-term “immune memory acquired by vaccinations and from prior infections”.
Professor David Spiegelhalter, a statistician at the University of Cambridge, added: “As ONS say, there is some evidence of decline in older groups, although the share testing positive for antibodies remains very high.”