Vaccine roll-out working, first national study suggests

A mixed race female nurse wearing a protective face shield, surgical mask and protective gloves administering the COVID-19 vaccine to a black man

Vaccination has been linked to a substantial reduction in the risk of COVID-19 admissions to Scotland’s hospitals, landmark research suggests.

The study is the first to describe across an entire country the effect of the Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca jabs in the community on preventing severe illness resulting in hospitalisation. Previous results about vaccine efficacy have come from clinical trials.

The study is funded by the COVID-19 rapid research response by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

To provide real-time information in the pandemic, the preliminary results have been posted on the SSRN preprint server and submitted to a journal to undergo peer review.

Reduced risk of hospitalisation

By the fourth week after receiving the initial dose, the Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines were shown to reduce the risk of hospitalisation from COVID-19 in up to 85% and 94%, respectively.

Among those aged 80 years and over, one of the highest risk groups, vaccination was associated with an 81% reduction in hospitalisation risk in the fourth week. This was when the results for both vaccines were combined.

As part of the EAVE II project, researchers analysed a dataset covering the entire Scottish population of 5.4 million. The EAVE II project uses patient data to track the pandemic and the vaccine roll out in real time.

Researchers were involved from:

  • The University of Edinburgh
  • University of Strathclyde
  • University of Aberdeen
  • University of Glasgow
  • University of St Andrew’s
  • Public Health Scotland (PHS).

21% had first dose

Data on vaccine effect was gathered between 8 December and 15 February. During this period, 1.14 million vaccines were administered and 21% of the Scottish population had received a first dose based on Scottish Government prioritisation.

The Pfizer vaccine was received by some 650,000 people and 490,000 have had the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

Researchers analysed data for every week during this period, including:

  • GP records on vaccination
  • hospital admissions
  • death registrations
  • laboratory test results.

They compared the outcomes of those who had received their first jab with those who had not.

The study team says the findings are applicable to other countries that are using the Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines. They caution that the data does not allow for comparisons between the vaccines.

Optimistic for the future

Lead researcher Professor Aziz Sheikh, from the University of Edinburgh, said:

These results are very encouraging and have given us great reasons to be optimistic for the future. We now have national evidence – across an entire country – that vaccination provides protection against COVID-19 hospitalisations.

Roll-out of the first vaccine dose now needs to be accelerated globally to help overcome this terrible disease.

Dr Josie Murray, PHS Public Health Consultant Lead for EAVE II, said:

These data show real promise that the vaccines we have given out can protect us from the severe effects of COVID-19. We must not be complacent though. We all still need to ensure we stop transmission of the virus, and the best way we can all do this is to follow public health guidance – wash your hands often, keep two meters from others, and if you develop symptoms, isolate and take a test.

We also all need to protect ourselves, our families and friends by taking the second dose of vaccine when it is offered.

Professor Chris Robertson, from the University of Strathclyde, said:

These early national results give a reason to be more optimistic about the control of the epidemic. They also show the value of linked national data sets with academic research groups working closely with public health institutes.

This work was funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC), the NIHR and Health Data Research UK (HDR UK), and supported by the Scottish Government.

Extraordinary effort

Professor Fiona Watt, Executive Chair of MRC, which helped fund the study, said:

The discovery of very high protection before the second dose of the vaccines is very welcome news. These promising early results are a testament to the extraordinary efforts of the everyone who worked so hard to develop the vaccines and roll them out with unprecedented speed, and to these researchers who’ve analysed Scottish health data in near real-time.

Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England and co-lead for the NIHR, said:

This research provides encouraging early data on the impact of vaccination on reducing hospitalisations.

Professor Andrew Morris, Director, HDR UK, said:

These important results are the first nationwide data to demonstrate that vaccines reduce COVID-19 related admissions to hospital in the real world.

Importantly, the data used in this research is accessible via the HDR Innovation Gateway; supporting the UK’s research community by making health datasets easily discoverable and accessible. This commitment to open collaborative science at scale is vital in our quest to combat COVID-19.

Read more on the University of Edinburgh news.

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