NEWS

COVID-19 VACCINE

Asthma Sufferers Left at Risk Due to Priority Vaccine Omission

Asthma and Allergy Foundation is calling on the government to prioritise all asthmatics for the COVID-19 vaccine scheme. As lockdown restrictions ease, many people with lung disease are now left unprotected from the dangerous respiratory virus.

Previously, all those with asthma who were eligible for the flu jab were thought to be included in the COVID-19 priority scheme in either Category 4 or 6. The JCVI omitted mild and moderate asthma sufferers from their vaccine priority roll-out and have yet to provide irrefutable evidence that this decision will not put asthma sufferers at greater risk, when compared to their healthy peers.

Martina Chukwuma-Ezike, Asthma and Allergy Foundation’s Chief Executive, said: “Asthma is a variable condition, meaning someone with mild symptoms can have an asthma attack that could be potentially life threatening. How then do you quantify ‘severe’? We are requesting that everyone with asthma be prioritised to receive the vaccine.”

Recent studies have linked asthma with debilitating long-COVID, an increased need for hospitalisation and critical care (compared to the rest of the population). What is more, should an asthmatic survive COVID-19, it is likely that their lungs will suffer potentially permanent damage, leading to continued use of stronger medications and reduced quality of life.

Early studies surrounding asthma and COVID-19 did not take into account self-shielding, skewing the results and leading to inaccurate data, which we believe informed JCVI’s choice to de-prioritise mild and moderate asthmatics. 

Our Chief Executive, Chukwuma-Ezike continued: “The word ‘severe’ is relative as asthma often moves along a continuum: mild, moderate and severe. A mild asthmatic can easily become severe when they come in contact with a trigger or daily preventer inhaler not working as it should. These instances are common. Life-threatening asthma attacks happen on a daily basis across the UK. Adding COVID-19 to the mix is highly unlikely to lead to a wholly positive outcome.”

Numerous US States have added asthma to the vaccine eligibility list, reported the Boston Herald, due to the added risk COVID-19 poses to those with lung disease. Countries such as Finland are following suit, without the arbitrary ‘three oral steroid courses’ rule that the UK has enforced.  

The UK government specified that only those with a previous hospital admission or who have taken three courses of oral steroids are eligible for vaccine priority Group 4 or Group 6. However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the NHS both state that asthma is a risk factor for serious illness with COVID-19.

Calls to Asthma and Allergy Foundation rose by 400% after this priority vaccine change. Mhairi Gowans, who suffers from asthma, told Asthma and Allergy Foundation, “As asthma was listed as a clinically vulnerable condition by the NHS, I was shocked and angry to find that we had been quietly off-boarded just at the very moment vaccination was announced for Group 6. Asthma increases your risk of hospitalisation, intubation and was also found to be the only condition that co-aligned with long-COVID. The science makes it clear that we are clinically vulnerable and thus we should be included in Group 6.” Mhairi explained that her breathing issues could have included a hospital stay, had she not known more about her condition and the help offered by the NHS for asthmatics. “My official asthma record may look much more mild and controlled than it actually is.” How, then, does any asthmatic know their COVID-19 risk?

Angela Stapleford, another asthmatic, told Asthma and Allergy Foundation: “The JCVI and the government seem to have split people with asthma into two groups: those with severe asthma and those with well-controlled asthma. I am not sure exactly where my asthma fits in on the scale between mild and severe. I don’t meet the government’s interpretation of severe asthma for vaccination priority, but my asthma is not always well-controlled.”

Angela said that consultants have referred to her asthma as “moderate-to-severe” and she has tried numerous preventer inhalers. “Since I have heard that most people with asthma have been excluded from the priority groups for vaccination, I’ve felt anxious and stressed. At times I have become very wheezy and been short of breath. I am still very fearful of catching COVID. I work from home, but my husband is a college teacher, and my son is a secondary school pupil. So, while COVID cases are still out there, they will both be spending time in public places as education returns to normal.”

The JCVI’s vaccine priority omission has caused intense anxiety and stress for asthmatics. Callers with lung disease have warned Asthma and Allergy Foundation that they will stop taking their preventer inhalers, in order to trigger an attack that would make them eligible for priority vaccination. Statements to the charity have included:

  • “Being classed as at risk is very simple, I will just come off my preventer inhaler for a week and I will have an asthma attack that will put me in hospital.”
  • “All I have to do is spray strong perfume or play with the family dog and I will be in A&E within two hours with an asthma attack.”

Asthma and Allergy Foundation is asking those with asthma to not be reckless with their health or take drastic measures. There is already a greater risk to asthmatics as lockdown eases. Asthma sufferers refusing to take their preventer inhalers could lead to a public health crisis and the NHS being overwhelmed. What is more, uncontrolled asthma poses a greater risk for complications arising from COVID-19.  

As the only dedicated Scottish asthma charity, Asthma and Allergy Foundation has stepped up to educate, inform and advocate for asthmatics. Our team and consultants understand or have lung disease themselves and are uniquely placed to support and empower asthmatics.

“We urge the government to change their priority criteria and protect all those with asthma,”. “Emerging studies on lung disease and COVID-19 point to a worrying trend; asthma sufferers – whether mild, moderate or severe – are at greater risk of death or worsening illness due to the coronavirus. “Lives will be lost if the government fails to act now.”

As the UK heads into easing lockdown restrictions, Asthma and Allergy Foundation is urging the Department of Health to review recent studies linking asthma to long-COVID and hospitalisation. After all, asthma is a lung disease and COVID-19 is a respiratory illness. It is time for the UK government to act responsibly and show due care to all those with underlying health conditions.

“We at Asthma and Allergy Foundation hear you and we will fight for you,” said Chukwuma-Ezike to the asthma community affected by JCVI’s decision. “You are not facing this pandemic alone.”

Contact Us:

Email: info@asthmaandallergy.org.uk

Tel: +44 (0) 1224 973 001

We have contact with asthma sufferers across the mild-to-severe spectrum who can provide further information, interviews, and quotes. Do reach out for press releases and media on topics such as long-COVID and asthma, the mental health crisis for asthmatics in regard to COVID-19, as well as anxiety and lung disease during the pandemic.  

Glossary:

  • Asthma: A chronic lung disease that affects a person’s airways, with three categories: mild, moderate, and severe.
  • Corticosteroids: An anti-inflammatory drug used to treat lung disease.
  • JCVI: Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, who determined the COVID-19 vaccine priority groups.

 

Further Reading:

  • The benefits of inhaled corticosteroids for asthmatics, frequently quoted by Department of Health officials are unproven. Link.
  • Bloom et al, 2021, Lancet study links any asthma with a greater COVID-19 risk, with higher rates of hospitalisation for asthmatics. Link.
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