A quarter of people with severely suppressed immunity that leaves them highly vulnerable to Covid have still not had a third vaccination, according to official figures that have caused serious concern among leading cancer charities.
The figure emerged just days after NHS England contacted cancer specialists and services across the country asking them to assist in boosting the numbers, with concerns that it means more than 100,000 extremely vulnerable people are yet to have their third jab. A letter from the NHS sent earlier this month said that 30% were still without the third vaccination, which has since fallen to 25%.
Blood Cancer UK said its own support line had repeatedly been contacted over the last two months by patients who have struggled to access their third dose, despite the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) listing immunocompromised adults as the top vaccine priority. The NHS and the government has set a deadline of 11 October for all immunosuppressed people to be invited for the jab.
“At a time when the infection rate is high, many thousands of vulnerable people do not yet have the protection they need,” said Gemma Peters, the charity’s chief executive. “The failure of the roll-out of the third dose has caused huge anxiety for immunocompromised people with blood cancer, and is likely to have led to some people becoming seriously ill or even dying. We hope the government and the NHS will now act with real urgency in making sure every immunocompromised person is invited for a third dose in the days to come.
“We are also expecting an announcement shortly from the JCVI about a fourth vaccine dose for the immunocompromised. It is vital the government and the NHS learn lessons from what has gone wrong in the last couple of months so that they do not repeat the mistakes next time.”
NHS officials said that the cohort of people who were severely immunosuppressed changed relatively quickly, meaning the eligibility for a third dose could also change. They said more people were coming forward each day. The NHS has also written directly to around 400,000 potentially eligible patients.
“Progress has been made in the roll out of third jabs, with around three quarters of those people who are severely immunosuppressed having had a third vaccination,” said a spokesperson for the NHS. “The decision on when to get a third jab for this group is made between patients and their clinicians, and can be accessed through their hospital consultant or GP, and additionally, those with a letter from their doctor can book online or attend their local walk-in vaccination centre.”