Covid Scotland: Myeloma UK ‘seriously concerned’ over protections for immunosuppressed

THE easing of Covid restrictions is leaving immunocompromised patients facing an “uncertain future”, campaigners have warned.

Jo Nove, the acting chief executive of Edinburgh-based charity, Myeloma UK, warned that the clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) are being “left behind” as society opens up.

In England, all Plan B measures have been dropped – including mask mandates – while in Scotland employers are expected to adopt hybrid home and office working from this week.

Though falling, prevalence of the virus remains high with around one in 30 Scots infected.

There have also been reports that the UK Government plans to stop funding free lateral flow devices (LFDs) in the summer.

Myeloma UK is pushing for LFDs to continue to be supplied free of charge to immunocompromised patients and their families.

HeraldScotland: Jo Nove, acting chief executive Myeloma UKJo Nove, acting chief executive Myeloma UK

“We are seriously concerned that clinically extremely vulnerable patients are being forgotten in this pandemic,” said Ms Nove.

“We are rushing into an uncertain future, in which immunocompromised patients are being asked to make difficult choices and assess their own risk without a clear framework of protections in place.”

The Scottish Government has spent £55,000 on ‘Distance Aware’ badges and lanyards which can be collected for free from libraries and Asda stores and worn in public by vulnerable individuals wishing to signal to others that they would like more space.

A survey found that around three quarters of those on the high risk list supported this type of initiative, but Ms Nove cautioned that whether it works or not “relies heavily on the public’s goodwill”.

READ MORE: Fears for vulnerable housebound patients ‘left behind’ in booster rollout

Denis Cairns, a retired history teacher from Dunkeld who was diagnosed with myeloma – a type of blood cancer – in 2015 said he was “ambivalent” about the scheme.

“It’s bad enough to have this condition without drawing attention to it as well,” he said.

“But at the same time, there are going to be some people who are immunocompromised who can’t pick and choose where and when they expose themselves, potentially, to Covid, in which case that might help.”

HeraldScotland: Denis Cairns with wife, EunaDenis Cairns with wife, Euna

Mr Cairns, 68, said his main gripe had been delays to his third vaccination.

The married father-of-one is among the 65,000 people in Scotland entitled to a third primary dose of Covid vaccine – ahead of a booster – to maximise immunity.

Third doses are supposed to be administered eight to 12 weeks after the second, with a booster three months later.

After receiving his first and second doses through his GP surgery, however, Mr Cairns failed to receive an appointment letter from the NHS for his third dose and only got it six months on from his second vaccination after his wife raised his predicament directly with a nurse vaccinator at their community hub in Blairgowrie.

“I had to turn up without a letter and just sort of talk my way through the front door,” said Mr Cairns.

“I’m due my booster in the next fortnight so I still have to wait and see whether they send me a letter this time or whether I’ll have to brass neck it again.”

READ MORE: Should Scotland be worried about Omicron BA.2? 

To date, nearly 95% of the eligible CEV population in Scotland have had third doses.

Mr Cairns stressed that he had already avoided busy supermarkets and restaurants even before Covid, but was “so happy” as a retired teacher not to have run the risk of returning to classrooms.

“I was told early on that the myeloma probably isn’t going to kill me, but an infection would, whether that’s Covid, flu, or whatever.

“Most people who are immunocompromised are aware of that, but some are in a better position than others to avoid it.

“But at the same time, you have to realise that the number of people who are immunocompromised is a relatively small percentage of the population and you can’t lockdown the entire country just for them – we’ve got to try to deal with it as best we can.”

HeraldScotland: Laura LaingLaura Laing

Laura Laing, a primary care pharmacist in Glasgow, said she will return to her GP surgery one day a week but work from home the rest of the time and continue limiting her activities.

The mother-of-two, 46, was diagnosed with incurable myeloma in November 2019.

She said: “I’m not rushing back, but it probably is better to be in practice – it’s easier to see patients and it’s quite isolating at home.

“I’m lucky – I have my own room in the practice. Some pharmacists have to work in the admin area, which is a lot more exposed.”

Despite her own situation, Ms Laing – who has daughters aged 13 and 14 – said she was in favour of scrapping facemasks in secondary schools because she believes they impacting negatively on learning.

She added that she also felt “more confident” after receiving her fourth Covid jag – her booster – two weeks ago.

Not all immunosuppressed patients respond to vaccines, but a previous antibody test signalled that she had.

“Back after my second vaccine I managed to get tested and I had high levels of antibodies,” said Ms Laing.

“I was relieved because I had heard of myeloma patients having no response whatsoever.

“It fills you with a bit more confidence, especially now having had all four.”

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