Protect those for whom ‘learning to live with COVID’ isn’t an option – yet

We are extremely concerned and hugely frustrated by the latest announcement from the UK Government to end the legal requirement to self-isolate and all COVID-19 restrictions. The Government must show clinically extremely vulnerable communities the scientific evidence that supports this approach. While these changes may be a welcome signal for many that life is returning to normal, for myeloma patients, however, they raise a new set of problems and complicated concerns.

There is still no way to determine which patients have received sufficient protection from vaccines. This makes it very difficult for individual patients and families to understand their chance of contracting COVID-19 and how serious their infection may be.

They simply have no way of knowing the level of risk they face as they go about their day-to-day lives. Returning to a place of work, doing the food shop, or dropping the children off at school all mean additional exposure with potentially serious consequences.

At the start of the pandemic, full social distancing measures offered patients a degree of vital extra protection. As measures now lift, this additional protection reduces and patient risk grows higher once more. For many in the myeloma community, this leaves them having to return to full shielding once again; only this time without the support they had at the start of the pandemic. As the world opens up, they are forced to lock down with all the additional anxieties and pressures that brings.

We know that measures that recommend the continued use of facemasks and social distancing are greatly appreciated by patients and their families. They feel less isolated and left behind and this reflects in their decisions about what they feel safe to do. But these are ultimately goodwill measures that rely on the generous support of the public, and inevitably there is a limit on the extent of the protection they can be expected to afford.

Myeloma UK is calling for a comprehensive framework that offers financial and legal protection to patients required to continue to self-isolate and take additional measures to protect themselves. We need a commitment that clinically extremely vulnerable patients will be prioritised for further COVID-19 vaccine doses and booster shots, as well as for lifesaving antiviral treatments. And we need lateral flow tests to remain free and accessible to all immunocompromised patient populations and their families.

Opening up society should not mean turning back the clock for some of the most vulnerable people in our community.

Let’s take the lessons we have learned in the last two years and put the right protections in place for those who are not able to learn to live with COVID-19.

For updates on the easing of restrictions across the UK and advice on keeping safe, please visit the COVID-19 Information Hub.

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