We are calling for the free flu jab list to be used to prioritise people with asthma for COVID-19 vaccination. We continue to campaign to ensure no one with asthma is left behind
What are the issues?
Ahead of the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination programme, the Government set out its criteria for who would be able to receive the earliest vaccinations, based on who they believed were at greatest risk of death. This included some people with asthma, but not others and was based on the severity of a person’s asthma and whether asthma symptoms could be controlled. It became clear shortly after this, that the criteria that had been set was unworkable – both for people with asthma and many healthcare professionals. It led to many people who were either entitled or expecting to receive early jabs, missing out until much later.
We discovered through our helpline that many people who were eligible, were not being called for early COVID-19 vaccines. This was because it was difficult for GPs to identify who was eligible from health records. We carried out research which found that 280,000 people with asthma identified by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and the government as being at higher risk, were missed off the list and did not receive an early dose by April 2021 when they should have.
We believe that the process of identifying who is entitled to early jabs would be far simpler if GPs only have to review one list – the free flu jab list, which includes everyone with asthma who has been prescribed a preventer inhaler, or who has been admitted to hospital because of their asthma in the past year. This is also important because the evidence on whether adults with asthma are more likely to become seriously ill from COVID-19 is evolving. The Government must therefore take a cautious approach by widening the net and ensuring that people who could be at increased risk do not miss out on early access to these vital jabs.
What did we do about it?
Early on, we launched a petition urging the Government to put everyone with asthma not already in one of the nine priority groups at the start of the next phase of the vaccine roll-out, ahead of the general population. Over 28,000 people signed this petition which we shared with the Government to show the strength of support, alongside emerging evidence showing people with asthma were at greater risk of COVID-19 hospitalisations and Long COVID.
As discussions around booster jabs were taking place, we called on the Government to use the free flu jab list as part of any booster jab programme. We engaged with MPs from different political parties, and Government Ministers to make the case for early access – for example one MP wrote to the Health Secretary to urgently consider giving any booster jab to people with asthma on the free flu jab list.
We also asked people with asthma across the UK to write to their local politician using our online form to make the case for including people on the free flu jab list within the autumn booster programme from September 2021 – thousands of you took part in writing to your political representative on this issue.
In June 2021, there was a glimmer of hope when the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisation’s (JCVI) interim guidance recommended that adults aged 16-49, who are in influenza at-risk groups should be prioritised as part of the booster programme. However, we were extremely disappointed that this was not included in the JCVI’s final guidance published in September 2021.
In response to the change in guidance, we urged the Government to publish all the evidence behind the JCVI’s final recommendations and we continued to engage with MPs, the Government and the JCVI, to set out the value of using the free flu jab list to determine early access to booster vaccinations. Thousands of you have helped us make this case by writing to your local politician.
What we want to see next
We want to see the free flu jab list used as part of any future COVID-19 vaccination and booster vaccination programme, as a way of ensuring that everyone with asthma who was entitled and expecting to receive early jabs, can access them.
We will continue to champion this as a solution for people with asthma.