Coronavirus: Older people excluded from most vaccine and treatment trials, study warns

September 28, 2020

Older people are being excluded from the vast majority of trials to find treatments and a vaccine for COVID-19, according to a study.

Around 9% of the global population is 65 and older, but this demographic has accounted for up to 40% of coronavirus cases and 80% of deaths.

People in that age group were reported as absent from half of US trials for COVID-19 treatments, and all of the vaccine trials, researchers found.

It raises the risk that treatments won't be suitable for those hit hardest by the pandemic.

The figures come from clinical trials registered with the US government between 1 October 2019 and 1 June 2020.

They are reported in a study in the American Medical Association's Internal Medicine journal, which warns treatments developed in the trials could be ineffective or even toxic for older adults.

The team reviewed direct age-based exclusions, as well as exclusions which would preferentially affect older people, such as requiring smartphones to participate in the trial.

It follows another study published earlier this year which found most older people killed by the disease would not have died otherwise.

Dr Sharon Inouye, the senior author of the study, said that 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," Dr Inouye said.

"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."

The research was done by scientists at Hebrew SeniorLife and the Hinda and Arthur Marcus Institute for Aging Research.

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