Prof Openshaw, an expert in experimental medicine at Imperial College London, said: “We’re actually considering a paper at Nervtag this week which is about targeting of different sub-populations with vaccines.
“I would say that sometimes it’s possible to protect a vulnerable group by targeting another group. This, for example, is being done with influenza.”
Although they stand to benefit most because of their vulnerability, older people often derive the least benefit from vaccines because the drugs tend to prompt a weaker immune response.
Prof Openshaw said healthcare workers and people in other public-facing jobs could also be considered for vaccination first.
Also giving evidence, Professor Arne Akbar, the president of the British Society of Immunology, said: “Vaccines don’t work very well in older people. This has been shown with many other vaccines in the past.
“So we might have to have something as well as a vaccine to get optimum protection for older people.”
He suggested that, alongside a vaccine, older people could be offered an anti-inflammatory drug such as dexamethasone, which has recently shown strong results in those who are severely ill with coronavirus.
“Just a vaccine alone will help the younger people, and that will be good because then, if the younger people are not infected, they will not spread it to the older people – but it won’t directly help the older group very much,” Prof Akbar said.
His comments came as a new study of the potential Oxford vaccine in pigs found that two doses induced a better response than one.
The study, by the Pirbright Institute, of ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 (AZD1222) vaccine showed a marked increase in neutralising antibodies, which bind to the virus in a way that blocks infection.