People with weakened immune systems are still struggling to access a third Covid vaccine dose, patient groups have said.
Three months have passed since the UK’s vaccine watchdog said 500,000 clinically vulnerable Britons were eligible for the jab.
The recommendation, made by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), is separate from the country’s wider booster programme, which is open to all over-18s.
Those who are deemed immunocompromised and therefore vulnerable to Covid will also receive a fourth, booster vaccine dose, three months after their third, the JCVI said this week.
Yet Kidney Care UK said it was “worried by responses from patients this week who have still not been able to access their third primary dose, despite the JCVI guidance having been in place for the last three months”.
Between 30,000 and 50,000 kidney patients in the UK are classed as immunocompromised, meaning they’re unlikely to mount an effective immune response after two vaccine doses.
Other patient groups, such as those with blood cancer, are similarly vulnerable to Covid-19. Data suggests that the proportion of immunocompromised individuals in intensive care with Covid increased in the months after 19 July, when all restrictions were lifted in Britain.
According to the latest NHS figures, nearly 30 per cent of people deemed immunocompromised had not received a third vaccine dose by 18 November.
Fiona Loud, policy director at Kidney Care UK, said: “Whilst we are hearing from fewer kidney patients having issues, it is not good enough that there are still individuals who haven’t had their third dose yet.
“With a new variant of concern it is even more important than ever that people who have a lower immune system, because of their disease or treatment, get the maximum chances for protection
“As a fourth, booster jab, has now also been announced for people who are immunosuppressed, fixing the third jab problems is of paramount importance.”
Kidney Care UK said issues around accessing a third dose were “mostly centred” around confusion as to how the vaccines are being deployed locally, as this varies from location to location. “We also know of people who meet the eligibility criteria who have not had any proactive communication from the NHS,” the charity said.
Rachel Kahn, research communications manager at Blood Cancer UK, said: “Our community have found it incredibly difficult to access a third vaccine dose over the last few months.
“With Sajid Javid announcing that they are now eligible for a booster, we hope NHS England will rectify these issues quickly to ensure our community can easily access their booster jabs and have the best possible chance of protection from Covid, including the new variant omicron.”
Blood Cancer UK also called on the government to “provide details” on when the antirival drug molnupiravir will be made available to immunocompromised patients in the UK.
The pill, which was last month licensed for use by Britain’s medicines regulator, has shown to be effective in reducing the risk of hospitalisation and death among vulnerable people who have recently been infected with Covid-19.
The UK government has ordered 480,000 courses of the treatment, developed by Merck. However, it’s unclear when the pill, consumed orally, will be available via the NHS, and to which groups.
Molnupiravir “could also be an important treatment for our community and we urge the government to provide details of how they will roll out this treatment as soon as possible,” said Ms Kahn.
NHS England said that the severely immunosuppressed cohort is dynamic and changes over relatively short periods of time. Many patients will start or finish courses of chemotherapy or other treatments and so their eligibility for a third dose will change, it added.
A spokesperson said: “The decision on when to get a third jab for this group is made between patients and their clinicians, and can be accessed through their hospital consultant or GP, and additionally, those with a letter from their doctor can book in via the national booking system online or attend their local walk-in vaccination site.”