Patients waiting for elective surgery should get coronavirus vaccines ahead of the general population, a study suggests.
This could potentially help to avoid thousands of post-operative deaths linked to the virus, according to the research funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).
According to the research, between 0.6% and 1.6% of patients develop Covid-19 infection after elective surgery.
Patients who develop the infection are at between four and eight-fold increased risk of death in the 30 days following surgery.
For example, whereas patients aged 70 years and over undergoing cancer surgery would usually have a 2.8% mortality rate, this increases to 18.6% if they develop Covid-19.
Based on the high risks that surgical patients face, scientists calculate that vaccination of surgical patients is more likely to prevent coronavirus-related deaths than vaccines given to the population at large – particularly among the over-70s and those undergoing surgery for cancer.
Overall, the scientists estimate that global prioritisation of pre-operative vaccination for elective patients could prevent an additional 58,687 Covid-19-related deaths in one year.
They say this could be particularly important for low and middle income countries (LMICs) where mitigation measures are unlikely to be universally implemented.
The CovidSurg Collaborative international team of researchers, led by experts at the University of Birmingham, has published its findings in BJS (incorporating the British Journal of Surgery and the European Journal of Surgery).
They studied data for 141,582 patients from across 1,667 hospitals in 116 countries, including Australia, Brazil, China, India, UAE, the UK and the US.
Co-lead author Aneel Bhangu, from the University of Birmingham, said: “Preoperative vaccination could support a safe restart of elective surgery by significantly reducing the risk of Covid-19 complications in patients and preventing tens of thousands of Covid-19-related post-operative deaths.”
He added: “While vaccine supplies are limited, governments are prioritising vaccination for groups at highest risk of Covid-19 mortality. Our work can help to inform these decisions.”
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has set out that in the UK, vaccine prioritisation should be given to the oldest and most vulnerable members of the population, and then continue in order of age.