MPs Ask For UK Government To Widen Covid Vaccine Access
UK Mps are facing immediate demands to contemplate expanding access to Covid vaccinations, due to apprehension that the emerging Pirola variant of the virus might strain the NHS and increase workers’ illness this winter.
As evidence seemed to indicate the spread of Pirola, Rishi Sunak, and Steve Barclay, the health secretary, were prompted to reconsider their choice to limit vaccinations to individuals aged 65 and those in high-risk categories.
A group of MPs addressed a letter to the prime minister yesterday, cautioning that the NHS may have difficulty managing another winter with high Covid cases.
Meanwhile, a prominent virologist predicted a “rough journey” for the health service and urged for vaccinations for over-50s to resume.
Members of the all-party group on coronavirus, spearheaded by Layla Moran, a Lib Dem MP, appealed to Sunak to evaluate broadening the booster program this Autumn.
Primarily to include more demographic groups such as those aged 50-64 and making the Covid vaccine publicly accessible for private purchase like the flu vaccine.
They wrote to Sunak and Barclay due to anxiety surrounding Covid-19 variant BA.2.86, informally known as Pirola.
Scientists have recognised its significant number of mutations, increasing the likelihood of evading immune systems more easily or possessing heightened transmissibility.
In a briefing note yesterday, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) disclosed an outbreak in a Norfolk care home and other cases throughout the UK suggests potential community transmission of the strain.
However, determining its complete scope of dissemination is still premature.
This Monday, the NHS is initiating its autumn Covid vaccination program.
The first recipients will be elderly care home residents and housebound individuals.
Starting from Monday 18 September, vaccine invitations will be sent out to those who are 65 and older as well as clinically vulnerable individuals, carers, and those cohabiting with immunosuppressed persons.
Responding to the BA.2.86 variant, the government expedited the vaccination program by a month but did not modify eligibility criteria.
Instead, they will adhere to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation’s (JCVI) advice.
Moran stated, As the government has been flexible about moving the date, they should also consider widening the groups it should be available to”
By accepting additional boosters, such as allowing GPs to recommend them on individual basis, she argued that it would alleviate pressure on the NHS and benefit the economy by reducing absences due to Covid or long Covid.
She also questioned the disparity between vaccine availability for purchase in the US and the UK: “A lot of people want this option, yet it remains unclear why it’s not currently accessible.”
Steve McCabe, a Labour MP and vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on access to medicines, also advocated for extending programs to include individuals over 50 and other categories.
He stated that focus should be given to groups prone to public interactions.
Pharmaceutical sector sources claim private Covid vaccinations will not be available in the UK until 2024 at the earliest.
Prof Lawrence Young, a virologist from the University of Warwick, firmly recommended extending eligibility to those over 50 and considering offering vaccines to all adults.
He explained that UK faces a rocky ride this winter due to growing concerns over new variants, and called for ministers to reevaluate their decision not to provide boosters for those under 65.
Young acknowledged that cost-effectiveness influenced JCVI recommendations but argued that amid uncertainties around Covid, wider vaccination would be more logical.
“The threat from Covid has not gone away. If anything, there’s even more concern given waning immunity.
Many people haven’t had a vaccine in a year or so. We’ve got new variants. I think we need to be protecting as many people as possible,” he said.
Dr Simon Williams, a public health researcher and lecturer in psychology at Swansea University, and Dr Andrew Hill, a visiting research fellow in pharmacology at Liverpool University, urged ministers to reconsider denying under-65s access to Covid immunizations.
Dr. Williams said that extending the Covid booster to over 50s would be a sensible precaution ahead of an uncertain winter. with Dr. Hill noting that excluding the 12 million individuals aged 50-64 was “short-sighted.”
“It is right to prioritise those over 65 and clinically vulnerable, but in the UK the decision to limit to the over-65s only seems to have been made on too narrow a definition of cost-benefit.
Cost-effectiveness, looked at from a broader perspective, is about more than just reducing deaths and hospitalisations.”
Dr Andrew Hill, a visiting research fellow in pharmacology at Liverpool University, also said excluding the 12 million people aged 50-64 was “short-sighted”.
“These vaccines are known to be eff ective against the new Covid variants.
There is no other way for people aged 50-65 to access Covid vaccines in the UK, especially as it looks like people who want them will not after all be able to get them privately.”
However, Prof Paul Hunter, an expert at the University of East Anglia in the epidemiology of infectious diseases, said denying under-65s jabs was “the correct decision.”
“If you look at the ONS survey data back from April the average number of infections people in England had had then was over two infections per person since the start of the pandemic [and] it will be more now,” he said. “So almost every one of us has survived one, and most of us have already survived multiple Covid infections …”
Health sources said there were no plans to widen the availability of vaccines.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We have brought forward the start of the autumn flu and Covid-19 vaccine programmes to ensure greater protection, support those at greatest risk of severe illness and reduce the potential impact on the NHS.
“On review of the evidence and an assessment of the public health risk to people in adult social care, there is no recommendation to increase the infection control measures in care homes.
We will continue to monitor the situation and update measures where necessary.”