A GLASGOW mother who is bedbound as a result of a rare organ-destroying disorder has spoken of her frustration at trying to get a Covid booster at home.
Charlene Johnstone, 34, received her second vaccination during a home visit by her GP in May last year, but is too sick to travel to a community hub for a third dose.
A shortage of vaccinators available to go out to vulnerable patients at home, including the frail elderly, is understood to be slowing the rollout of boosters to the housebound in the city.
The process is also complicated by the fact that each batch of Pfizer vaccine used for boosters comes in the form of a six-dose vial, which must be used up soon after opening.
Ms Johnstone, who lives in Knightswood with her mother and her 13-year-old son, said: “I was told if they came out and gave me one booster it would be a waste of the other five doses, but I’m sure they could find another five people in Knightswood area who are still waiting.
“It’s frustrating because my son’s going back to school now and obviously I can’t say to him ‘you’re not going out’ – kids are kids, they pick up everything.
“My mum goes out for food shopping and she is really careful, as are most of my family, but you just don’t know where you’re going to get it.”
By the end of December, 67 per cent of eligible adults in Glasgow had received a Covid booster or third dose – the lowest coverage for any council area in Scotland.
Across Scotland as a whole, one in 10 over-80s and one in 10 severely immuno-suppressed individuals – the groups most likely to be housebound – had not had boosters.
Uptake is higher in the 60 to 79 age group.
Ms Johnstone was fit and healthy until nerve damage during pregnancy caused her to develop gastroparesis – a condition where the stomach become paralysed, preventing sufferers from digesting food.
Since then she has had to be tube fed.
Two years ago, complications led to her developing amyloidosis, a rare condition where protein deposits build up in the organs eventually leading to organ failure.
Ms Johnstone’s form of the disease, which has damaged her spleen, kidneys and liver, is incurable and terminal.
She is visited twice a day by district nurses who administer pain relief and anti-nausea injections, but separate community teams are responsible for delivering booster vaccines.
Ms Johnstone previously caught Covid from her son in September, during the Delta wave, and fears she would have died then if not for being doubly-vaccinated.
She said: “I was pretty sick with it at the time – they wanted to move me into the hospice but I didn’t want to go. I was determined just to fight it off.
“I know it [a booster] might not totally stop me from getting infected, but if I hadn’t had the two jags when I got Covid last time then I probably wouldn’t be here, so not having the booster now is a worry when my immunity will have waned.
“There are nurses in and out twice a day. The nurses are vaccinated obviously, but my brother and sister in law were covered too and they still got it [Omicron]. There’s so much of it about.”
A number of other people have also raised concerns with the Herald about overdue boosters for elderly housebound relatives – including a 94-year-old woman and an 87-year-old, both in Lothian.
Another Glasgow resident, vulnerable due to various health conditions, said the information available for housebound patients was “negligible”, adding: “I spent six hours in the Royal Infirmary a couple of weeks ago without a booster when my last vaccination was eight months ago. That was a worry.”
In most parts of Scotland – particularly in the Central Belt – health boards rather than GPs have been responsible for the booster rollout.
Dr John Montgomery, chair of the South Glasgow GP Committee, said this had made it more difficult for some very elderly patients to access boosters – possibly explaining the lower uptake among over-80s compared to those aged 60 to 79.
He said: “The classic one for me was one of our patients who lives in Craigton Road [in Govan], she’s in her nineties, and she got her vaccine appointment for Milngavie town hall – that’s seven miles away.
“Unsurprisingly that wasn’t practical, whereas before she’d have walked 50 yards to the health centre.”
Dr Montgomery added that he himself had queued for three hours in the rain outside Partick Burgh Hall on a Friday night in December waiting to get his booster.
“If you’re a frail elderly person, that isn’t practical,” he added.
During December, a push to increase vaccination rates and booster uptake among some ‘hard-to-reach’ patient groups – especially over-70s in more deprived areas – saw GPs invited to take part in a last-minute vaccine drive through GP practices.
Around 40 per cent of practices in the south of Glasgow took part, including Dr Montgomery’s David Elder Medical Practice which delivered 200 extra vaccinations by Christmas Eve.
However, Dr Montgomery said he would like to see GPs given the opportunity to be involved earlier in future rollouts.
He said: “The housebound always tended to find themselves last in terms of getting a vaccine, even pre-Covid with the flu vaccines where it was the district nurses who were largely responsible.
“And that was in the days of a nice, easy, single-dose vaccine. Now of course with the multi-dosing vials it’s even more difficult to organise.
“The fundamental problem is a shortage of vaccinators – they’ve managed to recruit more for the push to get everyone done before the end of the year, but the housebound has always been a logistical problem.
“Taking general practice out of the equation I think has been detrimental.
“When we got the chance to do the over-75s, over-80s, and shielded earlier last year, the uptake was phenomenal – we were getting the same kind of uptake in our areas as in the more affluent areas because patients were happy to come down.
“And a lot of the patients – who were genuinely housebound – when we said ‘we can deliver this to you in the practice’, had relatives to bring them in if that was at all practical.”