The Coronavirus Vaccine May Not Work on the Elderly

The Coronavirus Vaccine May Not Work on the Elderly

Last Friday, President Trump stood in the White House Rose Garden and announced “Operation Warp Speed,” a plan to deliver a vaccine for the coronavirus by the end of the year.

Last Friday, President Trump stood in the White House Rose Garden and announced “Operation Warp Speed,” a plan to deliver a vaccine for the coronavirus by the end of the year. At the president’s side was Moncef Slaoui, who had recently stepped down from the board of Moderna, the first U.S. company to test its vaccine on humans, in order to lead the effort.

“Mr. President, I have very recently seen early data from a clinical trial with a coronavirus vaccine,” said Slaoui. “These data make me feel even more confident that we will be able to deliver a few hundred million doses of vaccine by the end of 2020.” Then, early this week, Moderna unveiled early positive results from its safety trials, along with plans to take the Massachusetts-based company public.

Operation Warp Speed’s promise feeds into our hopes of finding immunity. But whether a vaccine arrives in six months or 12 months, it will come with an enormous caveat that scientists have been warning of for months, and our leaders have all but ignored: The first successful vaccine against the coronavirus may well fail the people who need it most — 50 million people over 65.

Vaccines, including Moderna’s, are generally designed to get out of the gate with the young and healthy in mind and only later are dialed-in for more vulnerable groups. The ambitious vaccine rollout timetable touted by the president likely represents the starting line, not the finish line, when it comes to the immunity of older adults.

“I don’t think life is ever going to be going back to the way it was,” says Janet McElhaney, a medical doctor and vaccine expert at Health Sciences North in Ontario, Canada, who is now herself in her midsixties. As we age, our bodies lose the ability to respond to new threats and to recognize ones we’ve previously been exposed to, which means that older adults don’t develop a vigorous defense following vaccinations.

health science vaccines elderly coronavirus data science

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