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Behind the Headlines – Vaccine Priorities?

20th November 2020 // Shelagh McKinlay

Recent weeks have seen announcements about the significant progress made in the development of COVID-19 vaccines, announcements from Pfizer, Astra Zeneca and Moderna on their trial results have provided some much-needed hope and a sense of progress toward a more normal future, it also raises new questions; particularly for those who, like myeloma patients, have been shielding.

As our recent blog explained, full data for the vaccine trials has not yet been released and so, as yet, we don’t have enough information to know whether the current front runners will be safe and effective for particular groups, including myeloma patients.

Despite these gaps in our knowledge it is inevitable that, with another promising story published what seems like every day, people want to know how and when a vaccine might be delivered.

At Myeloma UK we’ve been giving thought to this question and taking action.  We know that myeloma patients and their families, along with other clinically extremely vulnerable individuals, are at increased risk from COVID-19.  You have told us about the sacrifices you have made in living with the burden of shielding, so you can stay safe.

We believe that while further work on vaccine development is taking place, myeloma patients and their friends and family should be reassured now that they will be given the right priority, once access to a suitable vaccine is confirmed.

Currently, interim advice on priority groups for vaccination is in place. This has 11 prioritised groups. The first priority group is older adults in a care home and care home workers; the second is all those over 80 years of age and health and social care workers. The next three categories are for older members of the general population; those over 75, over 70 and over 65.

High risk adults under the age of 65, such as myeloma patients, come in at priority 6 after these groups of older people and key workers. Myeloma is primarily a cancer of older people so many myeloma patients will receive vaccinations as part of the older age group priority groups. However, that leaves a significant number of myeloma patients under the age of 65 half way down the current interim priority list, below members of the general population (not myeloma patients) aged 65 and over who currently are not even seen as being at moderate risk from COVID-19.

We don’t believe this is right. It does not properly reflect the risk facing myeloma patients under the age of 65.

We will be writing to the Secretary of State for Social Care, Matt Hancock calling for all clinically extremely vulnerable patients to be prioritised for access to a safe and effective vaccine in line with their shielding status.

No myeloma patient should be of lower priority than those who were not asked to shield.

We also want more transparency on the evidence which is underpinning policy on vaccine prioritisation. We understand that these are complex issues; all the more reason for us to understand the basis on which these vital decisions are being made.

We will continue to press for answers to these questions and we stand ready to provide advice and insight to decision makers to make sure that the needs of myeloma patients are understood and met.