Asthma sufferers furious ‘sacrificial lambs’ after vaccine change

asthma sufferers furious sacrificial lambs after vaccine change - Asthma sufferers furious 'sacrificial lambs' after vaccine change

People with asthma have been left furious and accuse the Government of ‘moving the goalposts’ after guidance was changed at the last minute to exclude millions from prioritised for the coronavirus vaccine.

Updated guidelines from the Department of Health were released on Saturday, which means that only those with the most severe cases of asthma in the UK will be given any kind of priority at all to receive the jab.

It could well mean most people with asthma are placed into the general pool of the population who will receive the vaccine much later this year, after all nine priority groups have received their first dose.

This raises the likely prospect of someone under 50 with moderately severe asthma, who qualifies to receive the annual flu jab, having to wait alongside a perfectly fit and health 24-year-old who doesn’t have asthma has left asthma sufferers furious.

When Asthma UK, the charity that is supposed to lobby on behalf of asthma sufferers, published the updated guidelines on priorities on Saturday, there was a fierce backlash from asthma sufferers, who realised their hopes of being in Priority Group 6 for the vaccine – which would mean they could receive the jab as early as next month – could well be dashed.

Until yesterday, the Government had advised people diagnosed with asthma that they were either in Priority Group 4 – for the most severe cases who are the most clinically vulnerable – or in Priority Group 6 – for those who receive a flu jab because of their asthma.

But now the Government’s new guidance makes it clear that only a few of that second group will remain in Priority Group 6. Dr Andrew Whittamore, Asthma UK’s clinical lead, explained the change after the charity said it had been urging the Government for clarity on which priority group people with asthma will be in for the Covid vaccine.

Asthma UK tweeted the updated guidance. They said that if asthma sufferers were sent a shielding letter last March at the start of the pandemic, they would automatically be in Group 4 of priority – and many if not most had already received their vaccines, or would be being vaccinated at the moment.

Then, asthma sufferers would only remain in Priority Group 6 if they had ever had an emergency hospital admission for their asthma, or ever been prescribed three courses of steroid tablets in a three-month period.

With advances in the way GPs control asthma now, that means a large proportion of asthmatics will not qualify through either of those two criteria. This means that even someone with asthma that limits their everyday life, or makes them particularly vulnerable to other respiratory infections like flu or coronavirus, will not receive any prioritisation at all.

There are as many as eight million people in the UK diagnosed with asthma.

“Coronavirus is a different virus to the flu, and it affects people in different ways,” explained Dr Whittamore.

“As well as age, obesity and certain medical conditions all play their part when assessing a person’s risk of becoming seriously ill from coronavirus.

“But what we now know is that for most people with well-controlled asthma that is not severe, the risk isn’t increased. Data is very reassuring that the risk of death for these people is no worse than if they didn’t have asthma. Because of this, not everyone with asthma will be in the first 9 priority groups. Your risk might be increased by other factors, such as age.

“There will be some people with asthma who will be included in Priority Group 6. These are people who have had three prescriptions for oral steroids over a three-month period, or people who have ever had an emergency admission with their asthma.

“It’s important GPs can reliably identify the right patients to invite at the right time. GPs are being given instructions on how to search their records to find the people who fall into this category. Doing these searches will take time to make sure GPs invite the right people at the right time.

“Because the numbers in each priority group are getting bigger, it could take a while to get everyone in these groups invited and vaccinated. Please wait to be contacted by your GP surgery or get a letter from the National Booking System.

“All adults, including people with asthma, will be offered the vaccine in due course. As it stands, the government has promised that the entire UK adult population will be offered their first dose of the vaccine by the Autumn. This will be dependent on various factors, such as NHS capacity, and we will keep our supporters updated as soon as we learn more,” he added.

There was a furious response from asthmatics on social media to Asthma UK’s announcement.

Hetty Austin described it as ‘absolutely outrageous’. “It’s all very well for the Government to decide that well-controlled asthmatics don’t require priority but I know that I get ill, my well-controlled asthma takes a hit – hence why we get the flu jab,” she said.

“I would put it down to a numbers game, right? If they include all asthmatics, Group 6 will take longer and push back the ‘all adults vaccinated by autumn’ target. They’re playing with people’s lives here,” she added.

Jane Arbury wrote on Twitter that she felt the Government were changing the criteria to reduce the number of people in Group 6, which will enable the stats to show Group 6 had been vaccinated more quickly, so covid restrictions could be eased.

“It seems an odd coincidence that this comes on the day they announce pubs reopening in April – it definitely feels like they’re cutting Group 6 in the rush to reopen,” she said.

“We’ve all heard of fellow asthma sufferers going from mild/controlled to uncontrolled/debilitating after Covid infection.

“It’s insulting to them, and dismissive of those of us who fear the same outcome, to respond with a cheery ‘Look, they didn’t die!’,” she added.

Martin Wells-Gaston said the Government had moved the goalposts, just as millions of asthmatics were looking forward to receiving their jabs in Group 6.

“(It’s) disappointing and unacceptable, to go from being vulnerable to moving the goalposts and saying we are now not at risk and have to wait until group 9 are done or even longer!” he said.

“So we’re eligible for a flu jab but not covid, even though it’s more deadly as a respiratory virus,” he added.

Another Twitter user, Claire Louise, described asthmatics as the ‘sacrificial lambs’ to the Government’s drive to open up the economy.

“Looking like asthmatics are going to be the sacrificial lambs when the economy opens up then,” she wrote.

“Told for a year you are more vulnerable, but now will be the ‘accepted’ deaths and hospital admissions so everyone else can get back to normal. It’s a joke.

“Perhaps people should just stop taking tier meds and get that required hospital admission, eh? Considering meds are usually the thing that keep us ‘ok’, yet count for nothing. A 37-year-old with asthma gets the vaccine at the same time as a 37-year-old who doesn’t need two inhalers to not die,” she added.

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