A single shot of either coronavirus vaccine being used in the UK is around 80% effective at preventing hospitalisation among the over-80s, according to Public Health England (PHE).
The “seriously encouraging” real-world study measured the effectiveness of the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech jabs after three to four weeks.
The research also found that, four weeks after a first dose, the Oxford jab offered 60% to 73% protection against people over 70 getting symptomatic Covid, while the Pfizer vaccine gave between 57% and 61% protection.
PHE said the analysis “adds to growing evidence that the vaccines are working and are highly effective in protecting people against severe illness, hospitalisation and death”.
At a Downing Street press conference, health secretary Matt Hancock said: “This is seriously encouraging. It shows the power of science.”
England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam said the data could take the country “into a very different world” in the coming months.
Hancock highlighted figures showing deaths falling “much faster” than in the first Covid peak in Spring 2020.
The data also shows a “vaccine gap” with deaths falling faster in the largely vaccinated over-80s age groups than in under-80s.
The results “may also help to explain why the number of Covid admissions to intensive care units among people over 80 in the UK have dropped to single figures in the last couple of weeks”, Hancock said.
Van-Tam told the briefing that the data “gives us those first glimpses of how, if we are patient, and we give this vaccine programme time to have its full effect, it is going to hopefully take us into a very different world in the next few months”.
But he said “the problem isn’t fixed yet”.
“There’s a lot to look forwards to,” he said.
“It’s very tempting to just go: ‘Right, we’ve seen the results, that means the problem is fixed.’
“The problem isn’t fixed yet but we definitely have identified a way of fixing the problem and the early data show us how to do that and where to advance from here.”
Commenting on the PHE research, the organisation’s head of immunisation Dr Mary Ramsay said: “This adds to growing evidence showing that the vaccines are working to reduce infections and save lives.
“While there remains much more data to follow, this is encouraging and we are increasingly confident that vaccines are making a real difference.
“It is important to remember that protection is not complete and we don’t yet know how much these vaccines will reduce the risk of you passing Covid-19 onto others.
“Even if you have been vaccinated, it is it is really important that you continue to act like you have the virus, practise good hand hygiene and stay at home.”