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Left out of important research

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Although older people face the highest risk of any population group when it comes to serious illness and death from COVID-19, they are poorly represented in most trials of potential new treatments and preventive vaccines, a new analysis has found. (Source: Adobe Stock)

Although older people face the highest risk of any population group when it comes to serious illness and death from COVID-19, they are poorly represented in most trials of potential new treatments and preventive vaccines, a new analysis has found.

Researchers affiliated with Harvard Medical School looked at all medical trials registered in the U.S. government’s central data website, clinicaltrials.gov, between October of 2019 and June of 2020. They reviewed direct exclusions from studies based on age as well as other types of exclusions that affect older people more often, such as having certain diseases or pre-existing conditions and technological requirements that tend to be barriers for older adults, like having internet access or using a smartphone.

Their analysis showed that people over age 65 were “highly likely” to be excluded from more than 50% of clinical trials of potential COVID-19 treatments during that period, and from 100 percent of vaccine trials. 

Sharon K. Inouye, M.D., M.P.H., the study’s senior author, said that she and other participating researchers are especially concerned that leaving out older adults from COVID-19 clinical trials may lead to treatments that are not only ineffective for seniors, but also may be toxic for some.

“To be sure, some exclusions (from studies) are needed to protect the health and safety of older adults,” Inouye said. “However, many are not well-justified, and appear to be more for expediency or convenience … 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.”

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