Thousands of people with asthma missed out on getting their Covid vaccine on time, a charity has warned, as it called for people with the condition to receive a booster jab this autumn.
Asthma UK said everyone with asthma who is eligible for a free annual flu vaccine should be on the list when booster coronavirus vaccines are rolled out, following months of confusion over the existing jabs.
Calculations by the charity, based on a survey of more than 1,200 people with asthma, suggest that around half of people with the condition failed to get their Covid vaccine on time.
Asthma UK estimated that 280,000 people deemed at increased risk of dying from Covid-19 due to asthma failed to receive their first Covid jab by the end of March when they should have been vaccinated, and more than 100,000 were still waiting two months later.
In February, the Government confirmed that people with asthma would be prioritised to receive their first Covid-19 vaccine if they had a shielding letter (priority group 4) or if they had ever been admitted to hospital for their asthma or ever taken three courses of oral steroid tablets during a three-month period (priority group 6).
But this led to widespread confusion, with some patients turned away by GP surgeries, and family doctors struggling to work out who was eligible based on their risk.
Anecdotal evidence gathered by Asthma UK from patients and clinicians found that some GPs were unable to identify people who should have been prioritised, while some medical records were wrong.
An estimated 13,300 patients were told their GP had no record of a hospital admission, while the steroid tablet criteria was deemed too complicated for a lot of GP computer systems to search for.
In some areas of the country, communication between different parts of the NHS computer systems meant that prescriptions for oral steroid tablets generated outside of GP practices were unlikely to appear on a patient’s GP record, the charity said.
Asthma UK is now urging the Government to use the free flu jab list, which includes approximately 3.4 million people with asthma, arguing this would also reduce the burden on GPs.
Dr Andy Whittamore, a practising GP and clinical lead at Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said: “NHS services have worked around the clock to ensure that people who need help continue to get the care they need safely during this time of crisis.
“The Government has an opportunity to get the potential booster rollout right and must listen to the experiences of patients and those on the front line.
“What is clear is that the current system is not working for GPs or people with asthma. GP surgeries do not want to be faced with the same difficulties again later this year when valuable lessons can be learned and acted on now.
“Keeping it simple is key. There is the chance now for the Government to learn the lessons from last time around and get a simple and effective system in place ready for any booster campaign so that no-one with asthma at higher risk from coronavirus misses out on getting the added protection they might need.”
Sarah Woolnough, chief executive of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said: “It is completely unacceptable that around half of people with asthma who are at higher risk of becoming very ill or even dying from Covid-19 have failed to get their vaccine at the right time despite being eligible because of issues with GP systems and search criteria.
“Asthma leaves people struggling for breath, at risk of potentially fatal asthma attacks and causes over 75,000 hospitalisations every year.
“With a Covid-19 booster vaccine rollout looking likely, the Government must act.
“We think the best way to ensure that no-one is left behind is to look at vaccinating everyone with asthma who needs it and is on the free flu jab list.”