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Just 44% of people with blood cancer invited for potentially lifesaving third vaccine dose

15th Oct 2021

The roll-out of the third dose of Covid vaccines to the immunocompromised has been a chaotic failure, with less than half of people with blood cancer being invited by the deadline set by the NHS, according to our new survey.

We surveyed 2,891 people with blood cancer

By the deadline of October 11 (over five weeks after the JCVI recommended third doses for immunocompromised people), just 44% had been invited for their third dose.

If this were reflected across the 500,000 immunocompromised people in the UK, it would mean 200,000 of them have not yet been invited, with many of them put at increased risk from Covid as a result.

There is now strong evidence that people with blood cancer are both more vulnerable to Covid and less likely to have responded to the first two vaccine doses. But while their weakened immune systems mean they might still be at risk even after a third dose, the JCVI has said there is real hope the third doses will reduce risk of death and hospitalisation in immunocompromised people.

Yet over 80% of calls to our support line over the last few weeks have been from people struggling to get this potentially lifesaving third dose. Some of them have said their GP practices did not even know about the third dose, while others said their GP or hospital team wanted to give it to them but did not know how to record it on the system. Over the last few days, we have heard from people with blood cancer who have been reduced to turning up at mass vaccination centres without an appointment, pleading with the staff to give them their third dose.

This delay is putting lives at risk

With immunocompromised people accounting for over one in 10 deaths in double-vaccinated people, we fear many people with blood cancer face a greater risk of hospitalisation and even death as a result of the failure to roll out the third dose. The charity is also concerned that the Government is lacking focus on people who are immunocompromised, with Health Secretary Sajid Javid wrongly claiming in a television interview that the “vast, vast majority” of immunocompromised people had been offered the third dose. Our charity is calling on the Government and the NHS to urgently ensure everyone with blood cancer gets their invitation, and to launch an investigation into what had gone wrong to ensure nothing like this can happen again.

Gemma Peters, Chief Executive for Blood Cancer UK, said: “It is now clear that the roll-out of the third doses for the immunocompromised has been a failure that was poorly planned and badly implemented. People with blood cancer are seeing the third dose as something that could be the difference between life and death, and so the failure to deliver the roll-out has caused them huge distress and anxiety.

“It has been heart-breaking to hear so many stories over the last few weeks from people with blood cancer who have tried in vain to get a third dose from their GP surgery, or have been forced to turn up to vaccination centres without an appointment and plead with the staff there to give them a vaccine.

“Sadly, this is just the latest example of how immunocompromised people have been left feeling forgotten by a government and a health system that is impatient to move on from the pandemic. But there are still many thousands of people whose weakened immune systems mean they cannot get back to normal, and they need support to get through the difficult months ahead. The Government and the NHS needs to be open about this failure and to urgently set out how it will ensure every immunocompromised person is invited for a third dose over the next few days. Every day that people are left waiting is causing more anxiety and risks avoidable deaths.

“There then needs to be an open investigation into what went wrong, and to be credible it needs to involve people with blood cancer. Given that many immunocompromised people are likely to continue to be vulnerable even after a third dose, it is vital the NHS is able to communicate with them as a group, learning the lessons from the failure of the third dose roll-out.”

This is a problem across all of the UK

Most of the 2,891 survey respondents live in England, but the data from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland suggests this is a problem right across the UK. Ourselves and other charities expressed concern to NHS England at the beginning of the roll-out about the lack of clarity on how immunocompromised people would be identified for an invitation. Once it became clear that there were serious problems with the roll-out, NHS England officials assured charities they had identified the problem and that every immunocompromised person would be invited by October 11. But this has clearly not happened.

While we hear that some people have successfully received a third dose by walking into a mass vaccination centre, it's important for people who are having treatment, or had it recently, to take medical advice about the timing of their third dose. So we're continuing to advise people with blood cancer who have not yet received an invitation to keep calling their GP or hospital team while we wait for the NHS to confirm how they will resolve this unacceptable situation.

> Read more about what to you can do to get your third dose

Survey results breakdown

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Notes

  • The survey was opened at 5pm on October 11 (to coincide with the deadline for invitations to be issued). It was closed at 4pm on October 12. It was done online. We have only included data from people who said they had blood cancer.
  • The survey found that 55.6% of respondents had not been invited for a third dose or booster dose; 25.3% had been invited for a third dose; and 18.4% had been invited for a booster dose.
  • The number of respondents in each nation adds up to slightly fewer than the total for the United Kingdom, as a small number of people did not specify the nation they live.
  • The statistic about the immunocompromised accounting for over 1 in 10 double-vaccinated deaths is from the Office for National Statistics, which found that between 2 January, 2021, and 2 July 2021, 13.1% of double-vaccinated people who died of Covid were immunocompromised.
  • Sajid Javid told BBC Breakfast on October 2, 2021, that the “vast, vast majority” of people who are immunocompromised had already been invited for the vaccine.
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