Covid: Delay of third jabs for most vulnerable criticised

The rollout of third doses of Covid vaccines for vulnerable people with weak immune systems has gone “badly wrong”, say charities.

Vaccine experts recommended on 1 September that immunosuppressed patients should be given the extra dose to give them fuller protection.

But Kidney Care UK and Blood Cancer UK say many are still waiting.

NHS England says eligible patients should be offered the third doses by the end of next week.

Studies have shown that people who are immunosuppressed – around 500,000 people in the UK – are unlikely to mount a strong defence against Covid-19, even after two doses of vaccine.

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“Where vaccines cannot be administered at the same site, patients and their GP will be written to shortly so they can arrange their jab at their local practice or vaccine centre.”

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation advised that individuals such as those undergoing chemotherapy, HIV patients or people who have received an organ transplant, should get a third dose as soon as possible.

On 2 September, NHS England sent out guidance to doctors saying this third dose should be given at least eight weeks after the second jab, and at a time when the patient is not receiving treatment that may make the vaccine less likely to work.

GP practices were asked to identify eligible patients and begin contacting them by 13 September.

But people have taken to social media to express their frustration at not being able to access a jab, despite the rollout of the separate booster programme for the over-50s and at-risk groups.

Steve Harrison, from Lincolnshire, had a kidney transplant in December 2020 and is eligible for a third dose. He feels the most vulnerable have been forgotten.

He said: “Arranging the third vaccine has been a nightmare. Neither my consultant nor my GP knew about it.

“I have spent days speaking to doctors, consultants, the CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group) and I am still no closer to having my vaccine booked.

“Shielding ending, restrictions lifting, the world getting back to normal and moving forwards, yet I feel like I am moving backwards.”

The charities Kidney Care UK and Blood Cancer UK have both expressed concern at the high number of calls and emails they have received about the issue over the last few weeks.

Kidney Care UK has passed on the names of more than 80 GP practices to NHS England which it says were not currently assisting people with a third dose.

Fiona Loud, its policy director, said: “This lack of clarity is causing a huge amount of stress, anxiety and frustration amongst thousands of kidney patients.

“This group are returning to work and public places with no specific national advice or support.

“They feel completely let down and many have told us this is the most worried and anxious they have felt throughout the entire pandemic.”

NHS England issued new guidance to hospital trusts on 30 September, with instructions that action be taken immediately to contact all those eligible for their third dose by 11 October.

These will be recorded as a “booster” shot until the national system can be updated to recognise third “primary” doses. This will ensure immunosuppressed patients can then be contacted again in six months for their booster fourth dose.

An NHS spokesperson said: “While a decision on when to get a third jab remains a decision between a patient and their clinician who know about their ongoing care and treatment, all hospitals have been asked to identify and offer a jab to those who are eligible, by the end of next week.

“Where vaccines cannot be administered at the same site, patients and their GP will be written to shortly so they can arrange their jab at their local practice or vaccine centre.”

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