Public Health England (PHE) has published the first independent analysis in the UK showing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is effective from the first dose.

Early data from PHE’s SIREN study, which is being run by nine NHS Trusts across Cornwall, Devon and Somerset supported by the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) South West Peninsula (SWP), show a promising impact on infection in healthcare workers aged under 65. Data show one dose reduces the risk of catching infection by more than 70%, rising to 85% after the second dose.

Healthcare workers in the study are tested for COVID-19 every 2 weeks – whether or not they have symptoms. This suggests the vaccine may also help to interrupt virus transmission, as you cannot spread the virus if you do not have infection.

The study is being supported locally by staff from Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, Devon Partnership NHS Trust, Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust, Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Foundation Trust, Somerset NHS Foundation Trust, Torbay & South Devon NHS Foundation Trust, University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust and Yeovil District Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

Professor Michael Gibbons, NIHR CRN SWP Clinical Director, said: “I want to thank the organisations and staff across the region for supporting this study which was vital in helping our understanding of the transmission of the virus. The study has been running since the first outbreak and is only possible because of the commitment of the organisations and their staff.  The study is continuing to help our understanding of transmission following vaccination and has led to these promising results.  These results show how participation in research is essential in supporting better understanding of COVID-19.”

PHE’s analysis of routine testing data also shows that one dose is 57% effective against symptomatic COVID-19 disease in those aged over 80. This effect occurs from about three to four weeks after the first dose.

Early data suggest the second dose in over 80s improves protection against symptomatic disease by a further 30%, to more than 85%.

Hospitalisation and deaths rates are falling in all age groups – but the oldest age groups are seeing the fastest decline since the peak in mid-January.

Early data suggest vaccinated people who go on to become infected are far less likely to die or be hospitalised. Overall, hospitalisation and death from COVID-19 will be reduced by over 75% in those who have received a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

The risk of dying in those aged over 80 is less than half (56%) in vaccinated cases compared to unvaccinated cases, at least 14 days after receiving the first dose.

Those over 80 who develop COVID-19 infection after vaccination are around 40% less likely to be hospitalised than someone with infection who has not been vaccinated.

These high levels of protection are also seen against the variant of concern (B.1.1.7) first identified in South East England in December 2020.

While the data on infection, hospitalisation and death are promising, PHE will continue to observe these trends closely over the coming months to ensure firmer conclusions can be made.

PHE is also monitoring the real-world impact of the AstraZeneca vaccine and will publish these findings in due course – but early signals in the data suggest it is providing good levels of protection from the first dose.

Case study

The SIREN study, which allows organisations to track infection outbreaks and has been identified as a key study in helping our understanding of COVID-19, has been running across the UK since June last year with more than 3,800 people taking part in this research in the South West.

Reverend Kathy Brooke, the Lead Chaplain at Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, has been taking part in the SIREN study since last summer.

As part of her involvement in SIREN Kathy has been having blood and swab tests every two weeks, despite being needle phobic since the age of nine.

“I believe passionately in research which some people don’t think sits comfortably with being a Reverend, but it does because I believe in evidence and I believe in healthcare,” she said. “The opportunity to help and be involved in this study was really important to me and I felt that this was something I could do, something I could offer to the pandemic.

“At the beginning of the pandemic my huge anxiety was around the risk of spreading it to the people I was visiting. We cover the whole Trust – end of life care, mental health, every department. A lot of the people we see would be really vulnerable to the virus.

“The idea that I could get involved in this study, to track COVID and its spread, was something I was up for, not necessarily for me, but for my patients’ and their families.”

Read Kathy’s story here.