Weekly admissions to intensive care units (ICUs) of some of the most vulnerable patients have risen by 50 per cent in the past two months across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
This hugely disproportionate rise – compared with the rise in normal ICU admissions – has been blamed by campaigners and experts on the botched rollout of a third vaccine dose.
Currently, at least one in 28 patients in intensive care have conditions affecting the immune system, which means two doses of the Covid vaccine offer inadequate protection from infection.
Now experts fear some at-risk patients may have lost their lives to Covid because they did not get the vital third jab when the Government promised.
Weekly admissions to intensive care units (ICUs) of some of the most vulnerable patients have risen by 50 per cent in the past two months across England, Wales and Northern Ireland (stock photo)
Over the past two months The Mail on Sunday has published a number of reports warning of the major logistical failures that meant hundreds of thousands of the UK’s most vulnerable people – those with weakened immune systems caused by conditions such as blood cancer or who have had organ transplants – couldn’t get their third dose.
Known as a third ‘primary’ dose, it should be given to these patients eight weeks after their second dose, as many will have responded poorly to the first two jabs and do not have the necessary antibodies to fight off Covid.
Boosters, in contrast, need to be given about six months after the second injection, and top-up protection for the general public.
Recent studies show more than half of patients who don’t produce protective antibodies after two jabs do after a third dose eight to 12 weeks later.
In September, the Government pledged that up to 500,000 people with weakened immune systems would get their third dose by October 11.
But surveys showed fewer than half of them were offered one by that date, with thousands of desperate people being incorrectly told by NHS staff to wait to be called in for a booster.
The shocking ICU figures come just a week after Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that ‘too many’ people were in hospital with Covid because they had not gone to get their booster when it was offered.
But vulnerable patients have repeatedly told this newspaper of being been blocked at every turn in their attempts to get that crucial third injection.
Now campaigners fear some vulnerable patients are paying the ultimate price for the bungled rollout.
‘It’s been a complete shambles,’ said Gemma Peters, chief executive of the charity Blood Cancer UK.
‘It is very likely the rise in the proportion of intensive care admissions for Covid patients with blood cancer since mid-October is at least partly due to empty Government promises about giving a third jab to everyone in this group.
‘It is almost inevitable some people will have caught Covid and become seriously ill – maybe even died – as a result.’
Figures from the Intensive Care National Audit And Research Centre show that Covid-related ICU admissions for blood cancer patients rose from 20 each week at the end of September to 33 a week by early November – a jump of more than 50 per cent. Overall, ICU admissions initially dropped during that period, before beginning to rise again in recent weeks.
Campaigners say given that only one person in 130 has blood cancer, the admissions with Covid are disproportionately high. Similarly, ICU admissions for transplant patients with Covid rose to about 34 a week by early November, up from a usual 20 to 25.
According to experts and campaigners, vaccine delays are the most likely reason behind these sky-high figures.
‘We’re seeing more and more immuno-compromised patients being admitted to intensive care, despite having had two jabs,’ says Dr Ron Daniels, an intensive care consultant at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust.
‘By the time they end up here, their prospects are very bleak – at least half of them will die.’
Terrified patients – and their relatives – have told how they caught Covid waiting for the vaccine.
Double-vaccinated Janet Thompson, 68, from Norwich, fell ill shortly after the third vaccine was announced and lost her battle with Covid-19 in October, after four weeks in hospital.
She had a rare condition called Good’s syndrome, which destroys the activity of the immune system.
Having shielded since the pandemic began, the former hospital receptionist ventured out to the shops in the autumn, only to contract Covid. Within weeks she was in intensive care, fighting for her life.
‘By the time people started getting their third dose, Janet had picked up the infection,’ says her elder sister Joan. ‘I am also immuno-compromised and it took two months to get my third dose, so I am sure she would have been waiting a long time. I often think, if she’d got her third jab, would she still be here?’
Transplant patients who are hospitalised with Covid can fully recover when injected with blood from those who have survived the virus.
Mark Smith, 49, a father-of-two from Harrogate, tested positive for Covid the day after finally receiving his third dose – before it had a chance to work.
Mark, who works for the charity Kidney Care UK, underwent a kidney and pancreas transplant in 2009 after suffering with type 1 diabetes for 25 years.
The drugs he takes to stop his body rejecting the donated organs means he is at high risk of Covid infection. As soon as the third vaccine was announced in early September, Mark rang his GP.
‘She knew absolutely nothing about it,’ he says. ‘So I contacted my consultant, who I see for my kidney care, and he said I would be notification in due course. It took three weeks before I finally managed to get an appointment at a nearby drop-in clinic.
‘And I am one of the lucky ones – I know a lot about the topic because of my work. If GPs don’t know about it, how are patients supposed to find out they need it?’
The day after his third dose, Mark developed a blinding headache, nausea and dizziness. A lateral flow test was positive and a follow-up PCR test confirmed that he had caught Covid.
‘I was out of action for a week,’ he adds. ‘I was terrified I would end up in hospital because I knew my chances of survival were pretty low.’
Mark slowly improved but he fears other kidney patients may not be so lucky. ‘Lots of people seem to think they just need the normal booster. Even more worrying, lots of doctors seem to think the same.’
Jason Green, a 42-year-old plumber from Leicester, also caught Covid after being unable to access a third vaccine despite being high risk. He has to take drugs to treat ulcerative colitis, where the immune system causes painful inflammation in the bowel.
His second jab was back in April, but he has yet to be invited for a third dose. Last week he caught Covid from his son and is now battling severe breathlessness and desperately hoping it does not land him in intensive care.
He says: ‘I am outraged that I was not prioritised to receive a third dose. I was vaccinated nearly seven months ago – it’s very likely that I have very little immunity.’
Blood Cancer UK is calling on Ministers to do more to protect at-risk patients, including granting access to promising new drugs called monoclonal antibodies that can protect weakened immune systems against Covid.
The drugs, such as Ronapreve, can prevent the virus as well as treat it, but there has been no announcement on their use in those who are at risk.
‘It is unclear when they will become available,’ says Gemma Peters. ‘Blood cancer patients are being left in the dark, once again.’
Last night NHS England told The Mail on Sunday that 72 per cent of immuno-compromised patients have now had a ‘third dose’ – but this figure includes patients who were not able to access their third primary dose and instead received a booster from a walk-in clinic.
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Eczema, a genetic condition, tends to develop in childhood, while psoriasis is likely to occur in adolescence or adulthood.
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