Older people have been excluded from most coronavirus vaccine and treatment trials - and experts are concerned

Tuesday, 29th September 2020, 1:16 pm
Updated Tuesday, 29th September 2020, 1:17 pm
Older people have been excluded from most coronavirus vaccine and treatment trials - and experts are concerned (Photo: Shutterstock)

The vast majority of trials to find treatments and a vaccine for Covid-19 have not included older people, a new study suggests.

The research shows that people over 65 were not included in any trials for a vaccine, and were absent in half of the trials for treatments.

What does this mean for older people?

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This has raised alarm among some experts that potential treatments or a vaccine may have limited efficacy for older people, or may even have damaging side effects, due to the lack of testing among this demographic.

As people over 65 have been massively disproportionately affected by Covid-19 (making up 40 per cent of cases and 80 per cent of deaths despite accounting for only approximately nine per cent of the global population), this study also raises the question of whether a vaccine will even be suitable for the group most affected by the disease.

The study, carried out by scientists at Hebrew SeniorLife and the Hinda and Arthur Marcus Institute for Aging Research, looked at clinical trials registered in the US between 1 October 2019 and 1 June 2020.

Why aren’t older people included in studies?

Some older people were excluded directly, as the trials had a set age range for participants, but the study found that some older people were made less likely to take part by the nature of the trials, as in instances where subjects required a smartphone to participate.

According to the senior author of the study, Dr Sharon Inouye, while “some exclusions are needed to protect the health and safety of older adults - such as poorly controlled comorbidities,” this was not always applicable.

"However, many [exclusions] are not well-justified, and appear to be more for expediency or convenience of the trialists,” she explained.

"We are concerned that the exclusion of older adults from clinical trials will systematically limit our ability to evaluate the efficacy, dosage, and adverse effects of Covid-19 treatments in this population."