Sixteen health charities have joined forces to urge the Government to support around 500,000 people for whom the Covid-19 vaccines may give less protection.
With most of England’s Covid rules due to be scrapped on July 19, including the wearing of masks, charities such as Versus Arthritis, Anthony Nolan, Blood Cancer UK and the Cystic Fibrosis Trust said more needs to be done for those who are immunocompromised or immunosuppressed.
Advice from the Government for the vulnerable to shield was paused on April 1 and there are currently no plans to advise people to shield again.
The charities say they want better communication from the Government and the NHS to inform patients, the wider public and employers about the potentially higher and continued risks that Covid-19 poses to immunocompromised people.
They also want employment protection and access to workplace adjustments for immunocompromised people, including the duty to consider working from home wherever possible and flexibility in start and finish times so as to avoid peak-time travel.
We of course understand and share the desire to return to something close to normality again, but this cannot be at the expense of thousands of livesFiona Loud, Kidney Care UK
Furthermore, the charities are calling for a commitment that research into Covid-19 booster vaccines and any future booster programme considers how best to deliver the maximum level of protection possible to immunocompromised or immunosuppressed people and that they are prioritised for vaccination.
A poll of more than 2,000 members of the public for the charities found that 68% were not aware that people who have certain health conditions, or who take specific medication, are not as protected by both doses of Covid-19 vaccine as effectively as the general public.
Research papers have suggested that those with weakened immune systems do not get as high levels of antibodies from vaccines as fully healthy people.
Speaking on behalf of the coalition, Fiona Loud, policy director at Kidney Care UK, said: “We of course understand and share the desire to return to something close to normality again, but this cannot be at the expense of thousands of lives.
“The needs and safety of those at risk must be considered as a matter of urgency as the country lifts the measures which were providing some protection for them.
“We need better communication so that those who may not be as well protected by the vaccine can make informed decisions about their own personal risk.
“Everyone needs to understand how they can continue to protect those that remain vulnerable; any one of those 500,000 people could be your mum, your brother, your colleague, or your best friend.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine provide protection to those who are immunocompromised, so it is absolutely crucial everyone gets both doses.
“People who suffer with long-term conditions or are vulnerable may consider taking extra precautions to minimise any risk of exposure to Covid-19, as they do with other viruses such as flu. They will also benefit from those they meet and live with being vaccinated too.
“The guidance for clinically extremely vulnerable people will be updated ahead of step 4. As ever, if someone is worried they should speak to their GP for advice on how to manage the risks of Covid-19 according to their personal situation.”
The full list of charities is:
Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Alliance
Blood Cancer UK
Bowel Cancer UK
Crohn’s & Colitis
Cystic Fibrosis Trust
Kidney Care UK
Muscular Dystrophy UK
NRAS – National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society
Scleroderma and Raynaud’s UK