PEOPLE with asthma warn they are being put at risk – after it was revealed they won’t be prioritised for Covid vaccines.
The UK’s Covid vaccination programme will continue to roll out on an age priority basis, scientific advisers have today confirmed.
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People aged 40-49 will be next in line for a coronavirus vaccine, followed by those aged 30-39 and then all those 18 to 29.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has said the move would “provide the greatest benefit in the shortest time”.
But the UK’s leading asthma and lung charities has warned the decision not to prioritise those with the condition “ignores the evidence”.
Sarah Woolnough, chief executive of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said: “The decision not to prioritise all people with asthma, who are not already in group four and six, ignores the evidence that they are more at risk of going to hospital with Covid and more at risk from long Covid.
The government must reconsider this decision which is unacceptable and could put people with asthma at risk
“There are thousands of people with asthma who will rightly feel anxious, angry and ignored by government.
“We have been urging the government to ensure everyone with asthma is prioritised in the next vaccine roll out and more than 18,000 people with asthma have signed our petition in support of this.
“The government must reconsider this decision which is unacceptable and could put people with asthma at risk.”
The charity has launched a petition calling on the four UK Governments to protect 4.3 million adults adults with the respiratory condition.
But Professor Wei Shen Lim, Covid-19 chair for the JCVI, told a briefing that age “remains a dominant factor – it is still one of the most important causes of severe disease, even in those aged 50 years and below”.
England has entered phase six of the roll out, with all adults aged 16 to 65 who are in an “at risk group” now eligible for the jab.
It includes some people with asthma, such as those who have taken steroids for more than three months in a row, or those who have been hospitalised by the illness.
Research has shown the condition doesn’t increase a person’s risk of dying from Covid, but it can increase the chances of ending up in hospital or suffering from long Covid.
Campaigners have been calling for clearer guidance on the priority list for asthma sufferers since the vaccine programme began last year.
It also comes as a blow to some frontline workers, including teachers and police officers, who have been putting pressure on the Government to be vaccinated next.
Prof Lim said one of the difficulties with looking at vaccination according to occupation was that jobs are not very well recorded in GP records.
“Trying to work out the association between occupational risk and exposure and severe disease has been difficult enough, and I think structuring an entire mass vaccination programme around occupation would be even more difficult,” he said.
“We know that an age-based programme is simple and works very well and it seems sensible to continue with that, keeping an eye on speed because speed of deployment is the important factor.”
He said only one week’s advantage may have been gained in terms of the vaccine queue if age bands were sub-divided.
He said the “effort to try and do that may actually slow down the overall programme”.
He continued: “Speed is important.
“Of all the different approaches to vaccination, getting vaccines into arms as quickly as possible is the fastest way and the best way to maximise benefit to the population.”
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisations at Public Health England (PHE), told the briefing the age-based approach will ensure more people are protected more quickly.
She said that even within different occupations, age was the dominant factor in severe disease, adding: “We would want a 40-year-old policeman to come forward before a 20-year-old policeman.”
She also urged anyone at higher risk from Covid-19, including men and black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, to have a vaccine.
She called on local health systems to ensure they are “fully engaged and reaching out to under-served communities to ensure they can access the vaccine.”
A UK Government spokeswoman said: “All four parts of the UK will follow the recommended approach, subject to the final advice given by the independent expert committee.
“The UK Government remains on course to meet its target to offer a vaccine to all those in the phase 1 priority groups by mid-April, and all adults by the end of July.”
Reacting to the news, the national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales said it was a “deep and damaging betrayal” which “will not be forgotten”.
John Apter told the PA news agency: “There’s real palpable anger from all levels within policing about how we have been completely disregarded and ignored in this phase.
“What is expected of policing does put them at risk, it does put them at risk of transmitting this virus.
This is a very deep and damaging betrayal and it will not be forgotten
“They’re being spat at, coughed at, rolling around on the ground with people, working in hospital environments, going into people’s homes, they can’t mitigate the risk of the virus.
“All of that means absolutely nothing. This is a very deep and damaging betrayal and it will not be forgotten.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said school teams “often occupy confined and unventilated spaces for long periods of time with only rudimentary PPE (personal protective equipment).
“The fact that it may have added some complexity to roll out is not a good enough reason not to prioritise the needs of committed professionals.
“A sick teacher is a teacher away from class, which will mean further disruption to pupils’ education and could well mean that they may need to be educated from home again.
“I am amazed by the continuing dedication of school teams. The Government has let them down at every turn.”
But several scientists backed the move, with Jonathan Ball, professor of Molecular Virology at the University of Nottingham, saying “we know that these vaccines are good at protecting from serious disease, and the likelihood of that increases with age.
“Therefore, continuing to target vaccine rollout according to disease risk makes sense, especially if this simplifies the rollout process.”
Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, said there was merit in the idea of prioritising groups such as teachers.
“However, the downside is how best to rapidly identify those most at risk among different groups of employees across sectors and efficiently offer them the vaccination.
“For example, do you just prioritise teachers, or also include bus and taxi driver and security staff?
“If not, then why not and which other job roles do you consider? Where is the dividing line in this risk assessment? It’s not an easy exercise and difficult to get right.
“With such additional complexities, this could simply slow down the rollout and may delay the point that individuals would be offered the vaccine anyway.
“Therefore, on balance, I think this approach from the JCVI is the best way forward.”