Severe asthma sufferers were added to the government’s vaccine priority list back in February – but by the end of March, an estimated 280,000 people were waiting for a first jab when they should have otherwise been vaccinated.
Two months later, 113,800 individuals from this high-risk group had still yet to receive a vaccine dose, according to a survey commissioned by the charity Asthma UK.
As attention turns to the autumn booster programme, which may see the clinically vulnerable receive a third Covid vaccine dose, Asthma UK has warned that there needs to be a simple and effective booking system in place to ensure severe asthma suffers are not overlooked.
The charity said thousands of people with asthma eligible for inoculation in the early stages of the rollout were missed out because GPs could not find them on their systems using the criteria set out by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
The JCVI’s guidance dictated that asthma sufferers who had ever been hospitalised or received three courses of oral steroid tablets over a three-month period should be prioritised for vaccination.
However, due to inconsistencies in the NHS’ computer systems, prescriptions for oral steroid tablets generated outside of GPs are unlikely to appear on a patient’s record and practices aren’t always informed that someone has been admitted to hospital, Asthma UK said.
This meant that many asthma sufferers didn’t get the call to receive their Covid vaccine when they should have done. Others were told by their GP practice that they didn’t fit the criteria for a priority vaccination.
According to Asthma UK’s survey, conducted by YouGov, an estimated 13,300 people were meanwhile told their GP had no record of a hospital admission due to asthma.
The charity also said that some GPs had given up on following national guidance and instead invited their patients with asthma to be vaccinated early.
To avoid similar mistakes being repeated for a potential future booster programme, Asthma UK has called on the government to “look at vaccinating everyone with asthma who needs it and is on the free flu jab list” – which includes approximately 3.4 million asthma sufferers.
“It is completely unacceptable that around half of people with asthma who are at higher risk of becoming very ill or even dying from Covid-19 have failed to get their vaccine at the right time despite being eligible because of issues with GP systems and search criteria,” said Sarah Woolnough, chief executive of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation.
“Asthma leaves people struggling for breath, at risk of potentially fatal asthma attacks and causes over 75,000 hospitalisations every year. It is time the government took asthma seriously.”
“With a Covid-19 booster vaccine rollout looking likely, the government must act.”
As part of Asthma UK’s research, a total of 10,147 adults were surveyed by YouGov on their experiences of the Covid vaccines. This included 1,238 people with asthma.
The survey found that 49 per cent of respondents who would have met the JCVI’s eligibility criteria did not receive a vaccine until April or May. This figure was then extrapolated to estimate that 280,000 asthma sufferers were not vaccinated on time.
Dr Andy Whittamore, a practising GP and clinical lead at Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said it was “clear” that the current system is “not working for GPs or people with asthma”.
“GP surgeries do not want to be faced with the same difficulties again later this year when valuable lessons can be learnt and acted on now,” he said.
“Keeping it simple is key. There is the chance now for the government to learn the lessons from last time around and get a simple and effective system in place ready for any booster campaign so that no one with asthma at higher risk from coronavirus misses out on getting the added protection they might need.”