Older Americans are pivotal to the success of the vaccination campaign rolling out across the United States. They are the most likely to be hospitalized and to die from Covid-19, and the least likely to muster a strong immune response to the coronavirus.
In some states, nearly 40 percent of deaths from Covid-19 have occurred among residents of nursing homes. That’s why an advisory committee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine be given first to the nearly three million residents of long-term-care homes.
But one member of the committee voted against the recommendation, saying that the vaccines had not been tested enough in frail populations and that bad medical outcomes coinciding with the immunization — common in that age group — could undermine public confidence in the new vaccine.
Other experts on the committee said that all available evidence indicated the vaccine was safe and effective for nursing home residents and older Americans generally.
There was some reason for scientists to wonder whether a vaccine might not work as well in older adults. As people age, bodily defenses against pathogens weaken, and the response to vaccines also falters.
The drug makers Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline said on Friday that their vaccine seemed not to work well in older people, because the dosage was too low to generate a sufficient immune response in that population.
Pfizer and Moderna did not provide statistics regarding their vaccines’ effectiveness in people over age 80, but the data do show that the vaccines have performed well in all volunteers over age 65.