The health secretary has urged immunosuppressed patients to contact their GP about additional precautions to protect themselves from coronavirus, in anticipation of Covid restrictions ending later this month.
In a House of Commons debate following the Government’s proposal to remove the legal requirement for wearing face masks from 19 July, Sajid Javid was asked about the impact the measure would have on people who are immunosuppressed.
The health secretary said those patients would be protected by either getting the vaccine themselves or by others around them being jabbed, while saying they should also protect themselves against colds and other viruses.
He added: ‘I also encourage people to ensure that they are in contact with their GP to see what other measures or precautions they might be able to take.’
Mr Javid also noted there will be new guidance for immunosuppressed patients ‘and GPs will be able to use it in working with those patients’.
The Department of Health and Social Care said guidance for clinically extremely vulnerable patients – those who were told to shield from Covid-19 during the height of the pandemic – would be updated before 19 July, if the Government decides to go ahead with lifting restrictions at that point.
During the debate, MPs referred to charities including Blood Cancer UK, which has been raising the alarm over a lack of awareness that vaccines may not work for immunosuppressed patients.
The charity’s survey of 1,031 people with blood cancer found 81% said they had not been told by the NHS that their weakened immune systems mean they are less likely to have an immune response to the vaccine.
Meanwhile the Birmingham-led OCTAVE trial is working with 5,000 clinically at-risk people across the UK, including those with cancer, inflammatory arthritis, kidney or liver diseases, or current stem cell transplants, to study their immunological responses to vaccination.
Public Health England is also monitoring the impact of Covid vaccines on immunosuppressed people but no results have been published so far.
In yesterday’s Commons debate, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth asked Mr Javid if he appreciates ‘that those who are immunocompromised, or for whom the vaccination is less effective, will have their freedoms curtailed by ditching masks on public transport’.
In response, Mr Javid said: ‘The vaccines are there to protect everyone, including many people who are immuno-suppressed but who can take vaccines. For those people who cannot take vaccines, the fact that the rest of us do helps to protect them.
‘We would [want] them to take the same precautions that they would usually take in winter—for example, trying to protecting themselves against colds, flus and other viruses. I also encourage people to ensure that they are in contact with their GP to see what other measures or precautions they might be able to take.’
A DHSC spokesperson later told Pulse: ‘All vaccines offer some level of protection, even to those who are immunocompromised, so it’s important everyone gets their first and second dose.
‘People who suffer with long-term conditions or are vulnerable will want to take extra precautions to minimise any risk of exposure to Covid-19. As ever, if someone is worried they should speak to their GP for advice on how to manage the risks of Covid-19 according to their personal situation.’
Meanwhile, former RCGP chair Professor Clare Gerada has suggested clinically vulnerable patients will have to make a ‘personal decision’ following discussion with their doctor about what precautions to take once Covid restrictions are removed.
During an interview with BBC’s Today programme yesterday she said ‘it’s a personal decision, and I think it’s based on why your immune system is low, I think it’s around having a discussion with your doctor’.
‘Maybe you might need a third vaccine… but fundamentally, it’s about your appetite for risk.’
Earlier this week the Government confirmed it plans to remove almost all of England’s restrictions from 19 July, including the requirement for double-jabbed people to isolate if in contact with a Covid case, and the mandatory wearing of face coverings in public spaces.