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Why are some people with asthma being refused a Covid vaccine?

Olivia Petter
·4-min read
 (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

People with asthma who are eligible for a coronavirus vaccine are being turned away by some GPs, a new investigation has found.

As of 3 March, official data shows 20,982,571 people have had their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine and 963,862 have had both doses.

According to the government website, priority group six (which is currently being vaccinated) includes adults aged 16 to 65 in at-risk groups.

This means they have one of the conditions listed in the government’s clinical conditions list, which includes those who have liver disease, dementia, diabetes, heart problems, and severe asthma.

So why are reports circulating that people with asthma are being turned away for their covid vaccines?

Here’s everything you need to know.

Why are some people with asthma being refused a coronavirus vaccine?

According to the BBC, a letter sent to GPs in mid-February by NHS England stated that people who have “ever had an emergency asthma admission” to hospital fall into priority group six.

This means that people who meet this criteria should be able to get their coronavirus vaccinations now.

However, some patients who have had emergency asthma admissions had been told by GPs that they actually aren’t eligible for their vaccine unless their hospital admission was in the last 12 months.

“I was really shocked and so upset I put the phone down and sobbed,” one woman who has had three hospital admissions for asthma in the last 15 years told the BBC. “I’d just like some clear clarification on where the ‘within the last 12 months’ criteria has come from.”

Asthma UK says it has received thousands of calls to their helpline from people asking for advice on similar issues around the vaccine rollout.

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So why are some GPs offering the vaccine while others are not?

The Royal College of GPs has said “some degree of clinical judgement” will determine who is given priority to the vaccine.

Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, told The Independent: “The focus for GPs and our teams is currently to offer vaccinations to patients from group six... this is a large group of approximately seven million patients, and it is likely some patients in this group will not yet have been invited for their first jab.

“Prioritisation within this group will consider a number of factors, including age and ethnicity as well as some degree of clinical judgement.”

Meanwhile, others have said that GPs have interpreted the government’s advice differently - and it’s not completely clear why this is.

Sarah Woolnough, Chief Executive of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said: "We know that there are different interpretations of the official guidance from GP surgery staff and we’re not sure why exactly this is happening.

“We want to make it clear that there is no time limit on hospital admissions. There is no cut off time period here, the guidance is clear that if you were ever admitted as an emergency because of asthma then you should be in category six. It’s essential that GPs follow official guidance, so that people with asthma who need to be prioritised are protected now.”

Ms Woolnough added that the organisations are aware GPs are “very busy” right now.

“The specific nature of the asthma criteria means that many GPs, who are not all respiratory specialists, may not have the exact criteria in detail at their fingertips and may be relying on computer searches that have been set up for them which may not have the search parameters exactly right," she added.

What has the government said?

A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson said that those with “severe asthma” should be vaccinated now as per the priority group order.

“Our priority is to save lives and protect the most vulnerable, and based on clinical risk the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has recommended that adults with severe asthma should be vaccinated in priority group six,” the said.

“This includes anyone who has ever had an emergency asthma admission to hospital and those who require regular steroids. Mild asthma, including that which can be treated by an inhaler alone has not been found to carry a higher risk of serious outcomes from Covid-19.”

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