Some people with severe asthma who are eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine have been refused one by their GP, a charity has warned.
Asthma UK said there is widespread confusion over the guidance for who should be in priority group six, after some GPs appeared to say only those with recent hospital admission – rather than any history of admission – should be included.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) guidance for group six says anyone with asthma that has resulted in admission to hospital should be given a vaccination, alongside those who have had three tablet or liquid steroid prescriptions over a three-month period.
People with asthma who were shielding have already been vaccinated in group four, while those with milder asthma must wait for a jab according to their age.
Following reports that some GPs have told patients they must have been in hospital in the last 12 months to qualify, Sarah Woolnough, chief executive of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said: “We know that there are different interpretations of the official guidance from GP surgery staff and we’re not sure why exactly this is happening.
“We know that GPs are very busy and trying to vaccinate so many people quickly, and keep on top of very complex daily new information about Covid-19 and the vaccination programme.
“But it’s essential that GPs follow official guidance, so that people with asthma who need to be prioritised are protected now.”
In February, NHS England wrote to GPs to set out who falls into group six and said this included “anyone who has ever had an emergency asthma admission”.
But Sonja Chenier, 47, from Colchester, Essex, has been refused a jab despite three hospital admissions in the past 15 years and taking multiple medications daily for her asthma.
She told the BBC that her GP surgery had told her she was not eligible for the vaccination yet because her hospital admissions were not in the past year.
“I was really shocked and so upset I put the phone down and sobbed,” she said.
“I’m due to go back to work in schools next week and I’m absolutely scared witless.
“I’d just like some clear clarification on where the ‘within the last 12 months’ criteria has come from.”
In February, some GPs warned in Pulse magazine that it is not possible to search their practice IT systems to identify asthma patients eligible for a vaccine.
Dr Phil Williams, a GP partner in Lincoln, told Pulse there is no coding on his practice’s clinical system that pulls out a list of patients who have ever been admitted to hospital for asthma, meaning he would be unable to search for and invite those patients.
While the clinical system does allow the practice to search for patients who have had oral steroids issued in each of the last three months, ”you can’t do that for the last century”, he added.
Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “The focus for GPs and our teams is currently to offer vaccinations to patients from group six… this is a large group of approximately seven million patients, and it is likely some patients in this group will not yet have been invited for their first jab.
“Prioritisation within this group will consider a number of factors, including age and ethnicity as well as some degree of clinical judgment.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Our priority is to save lives and protect the most vulnerable, and, based on clinical risk, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has recommended that adults with severe asthma should be vaccinated in priority group six.
“This includes anyone who has ever had an emergency asthma admission to hospital and those who require regular steroids.
“Mild asthma, including that which can be treated by an inhaler alone, has not been found to carry a higher risk of serious outcomes from Covid-19.”
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