“A phenomenal success,” is how ministers have taken to describing the UK’s Covid-19 vaccination programme.
It certainly started that way and the view is widely shared, but I’m afraid people with compromised immune systems - among the most vulnerable to the depredations of the virus - have cause to question that.
Let me explain: at the beginning of September the Joint Committee on Vaccination & Immunisation (JCVI) recommended a third primary dose of vaccine for all those aged over 12 “who were severely immunosuppressed at the time of their first or second dose, including those with leukaemia, advanced HIV and recent organ transplants”.
It should be stressed that this is distinct from the booster shots currently being rolled out.
Immunocompromised people need three shots just to receive the protection you or I get from two. They will, presumably, then need a booster to extend their protection on top of that.
This isn’t too hard to understand, right? Except the message appears not to have reached people working within the “phenomenally successful” vaccination programme, including health professionals, hospitals and GPs.
My wife is a case in point. She is on immunosuppressants as a result of rheumatoid arthritis As such, she should have had a third shot by now. But while she has repeatedly called people and rattled cages, shuttling back and forth between GP and hospital, she hasn’t been able to so much as secure a booking for, let alone receive, the vaccination she desperately needs.
I’m actually quite worried that she’s going to require treatment for a concussion through repeatedly banging her head against the walls of our home in frustration at her lack of progress through the bureaucratic swamp she’s found herself in.
Her story isn’t unusual. The charity Blood Cancer UK says some people have taken to turning up at mass vaccination centres to plead with staff.
You can understand, then, that when I heard Sajid Javid speak on the subject I was also at the wall banging my head. “Eligible people have been contacted and are still being contacted,” he declared, before deflecting by noting that some patients are “immunocompromised but they might not be eligible at this point”.
I’ve seldom heard a ministerial statement that has made me more angry, because it is just not true. Our experience speaks to that.
“Let’s be clear: many thousands of people with blood cancer need a 3rd dose right now and cannot get it,” tweeted Blood Cancer UK in response.
Its concern is understandable. An analysis by the charity shows that the proportion of immunocompromised people in intensive care with Covid has risen from one in 30 to one in 20.
A survey it completed last Monday (October 11) found that 56 per cent of people with the condition hadn’t been invited to book yet.
Kidney Care UK, which also works for a highly vulnerable set of people, had a similar survey later that week. It found that only 35 per cent of those eligible for their third dose had received it.
Need I go on?
In the face of results like these, it is clear to me that Javid is suffering from the disease of complacency, and a severe case of it at that. Or maybe it’s incompetence? Can you get a lateral flow test for that? Could someone in the DHSE order him one?
Make sure you register your result Mr Javid.
But it isn’t the minister who will suffer the effects from this policy’s dismal failure. It is people like my wife, and people with blood cancers, and people with kidney conditions, and I could go on.
The government correctly identified protecting the vulnerable as a priority at the start of the pandemic.
Through much of it, they were asked to shield in their homes. But the legal protection as regards to employment, and the limited help that they were then provided with (priority delivery slots with supermarkets being one example) has since been dropped through scrapping of the shielding policy. Javid hasn’t even held it in reserve.
A substantial number of these people are therefore left even more vulnerable to a deadly disease – without the protection from the vaccine that they need and ought to have had by now. The situation is quite unconscionable. When the government rains on you, and you’re medically vulnerable, it rains hard.
The hard fact is that this is a screw up. A mess. And a godawful one. It needs fixing. Now.
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