COVID-19 vaccine reprioritisation must give earlier access to medically vulnerable patients

A reprioritised vaccine list must ensure medically vulnerable patients, including cancer patients, are given earlier access to the COVID-19 vaccine, says the Irish Cancer Society.

The Irish Cancer Society believes that higher priority must be given to individuals of all ages with cancer and other chronic or rare illnesses. Carers of people in these groups, including the parents of children with cancer, should also be considered for priority vaccination. The issue of vaccine prioritisation has been raised by the Irish Cancer Society alongside other patient groups since early December 2020.

Timelines are not yet clear on when these people will be vaccinated and are subject to supply constraints.

Cancer surgeon, Prof John Reynolds, said: “Cancer patients on active treatment should be given urgent prioritisation in the national vaccination plan which naturally aims to protect the most vulnerable but has not yet determined on high-risk health groups such as cancer.

“The drugs we use in cancer can severely suppress the immune system, and the treatments we administer such as radiation therapy and certain surgeries can in some scenarios weaken the lungs, so we must advocate to do all we can to protect these patients who would be extremely vulnerable to a bad outcome if infected.

“This is happening in policy in the UK and elsewhere. I know it is being considered in Ireland, the case I think is most compelling and would be very welcome.”

Director of Research at the Irish Cancer Society, Dr Robert O’Connor, said: "There has been a significant increase in distress from callers to our Support Line and much of this is linked to frustration and despair that medically vulnerable people, including those with cancer, are so far down the priority list when compared to patients in many other countries.

"Greater priority is needed for those with serious chronic diseases placing them at high risk of serious COVID-19 complications, particularly those deemed extremely medically vulnerable and under 65 years of age, and their carers.

"Many cancer patients and other high risk patients have been cocooning since March. Their lives have been on hold since then. We appeal to all decision-makers to revise the priority list and reduce some of the fear and distress faced by these vulnerable groups and their families.”

Irish Cancer Society Support Line

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