VACCINES minister Nadhim Zahawi has been forced to clarify when people with asthma will get their Covid jab.
Millions of patients with the condition who thought they were next in line have now been told they have to wait.
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In the next stage of the vaccine programme, the NHS is focused on reaching those who are clinically vulnerable and 65 to 70 years old- groups five and six.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) defined clinically vulnerable people as those with “severe asthma”.
Severe asthma patients are those who have received a shielding letter – who have already had the jab as part of a top four priority group – those who regularly take steroid tablets/liquid, or those who have been admitted to hospital in the past will be prioritised.
But it turns out it's only those who are on certain medications who will be called up for their jab in the next couple of weeks.
Asthmatics who take oral steroids, such as tablets and liquids, regardless of their age, will be told to get their vaccine in the coming weeks.
Those who have ever had an emergency hospital admission for asthma will also be invited, according to the BBC.
Mr Zahawi mistakenly said on LBC Monday night that people with asthma who take a steroid inhaler would be in priority group six.
He apoligised on Good Morning Britain today: “In category four, those with serious, extremely vulnerable cases of asthmatics would have been given the first dose in category four.
“Now in category six, if they have oral steroids, then they are in category six.
“The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation looked at the evidence and that’s what we are guided by.
“I apologise if there was any confusion, I certainly don’t want to have any confusion at all.”
When will people with asthma be vaccinated?
People with asthma are categorised into different vaccine priority groups depending on the state of their condition.
- If you were sent a shielding letter, you will be in priority group four.
- If you have ever had an emergency hospital admission for your asthma, or ever been prescribed three courses of steroid tablets in a three-month period, you will fall into priority group six.
- If you do not fall into either of these groups and are under the age of 50, you will be vaccinated after the first nine priority groups.
Source: Asthma UK
The vaccine tsar was grilled by Kate Garraway and Ben Shephard on Good Morning Britain in response to the mixed information.
The hosts said the change in messaging "adds to the anxiety" of those who are already vulnerable and shielding.
"How could you get this wrong?" Kate asked Mr Zahawi.
Sarah Woolnough, Chief Executive of Asthma UK and British Lung Foundation, said the "government’s lack of attention, urgency and confused messaging around this issue from the start of the pandemic has caused needless anxiety for people" with asthma – a condition which 5.4 million Brits take medication for.
She said: “The government have advised people with asthma that they are clinically vulnerable to Covid, throughout the pandemic, leaving many people with asthma to believe that they were going to be in priority group six for the Covid vaccine.
"However, based on evidence that a lot of people with asthma are at no increased risk of dying from coronavirus, it has changed the eligibility for category six, which means many people with asthma no longer fall into this group.
"The government must urgently communicate directly to people with asthma why it has made this decision and explain the reasoning behind it.
"It is simply not fair that people with asthma are dealing with this at an already difficult time.
“We have been speaking to senior officials at the Department of Health and Social Care, almost daily, explaining that people with asthma are worried and unclear about when they will get the vaccine."
Ms Woolnough said it was understood why the Government had not prioritised those who were not at most risk of death from Covid.
But she said asthma has also been linked to an increased risk of "long Covid" – a condition of persistent symptoms weeks or months after recovering from the coronavirus.
She added: "We want the government to take the needs of everyone with asthma seriously including their concerns about Covid causing long-term effects or making them unwell."
The charities said they had been calling for clearer information for asthmatics “for some months”.
Dr Amir Khan said on GMB: "It is confusing, and asthma certainly throughout this pandemic has been the long term condition that people are really worried about.
"People with mild to moderate, well controlled asthma are not at increased risk of death, are not being prioritised.
“It results in a surge of phone calls [to GPs] with people asking what they should be doing, and there might be people who might be sick and can't get through on the phone because people are asking questions.
"We do need clarity when it comes to this."
In the coming months, vaccine programme intends to reach all those in the top nine priority groups – including everyone over the age of 50.
The target is the jab the 17.2 million people left in those groups by the end of April.
Some people under 50 with asthma will be offered the Covid vaccine after the initial nine priority groups.
People with diabetes, heart disease, liver disease and other conditions are also being called up in the next few weeks.
More than two million people in the next categories will receive letters on the doorsteps by the end of this week.
Some may receive a text message or email from their GP practise.
Use this online vaccine calculator to find out when you may be called up to get your jab.
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