Lancashire residents offered no advice over paying for new Covid vaccine

Posted on - 24th June, 2024 - 8:00am | Author - | Posted in - Chorley News, Fylde News, Health, Preston News, Ribble Valley News, South Ribble News, Wyre News
Vaccines being issued in Preston
Vaccines being issued in Preston

Lancashire residents are being offered no public health advice about whether they should consider paying for a Covid vaccine if they are not amongst the few groups now eligible for a free shot on the NHS, the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) can reveal.

The current spring booster season, which is about to draw to a close, has been the first point during the pandemic that Covid jabs have been made available for people to buy privately.

Whilst the first booster vaccine – in late 2021 – was offered to the entire over-16 population, eligibility for the subsequent twice-yearly top-ups has grown ever more limited.

Read more: Opinion: Why we need our new hospital to remain in Preston

The present spring booster is open only to the over-75s, care home residents and those of any age over six months who have a weakened immune system which makes them more likely to be badly affected by a Covid infection.  It does not extend to frontline health and care workers, nor household carers, all of whom were offered last autumn’s booster.

The autumn eligibility criteria is traditionally more generous – but, on age alone, even that was limited to the over-65s last year, having been on offer to those aged 50 and over in 2022.

Waning immunity as a result of the length of time since the majority of people were last vaccinated – coupled with the near-continual emergence of new variants – is thought to be fuelling the regular waves of Covid infection that still exist, but which now receive little public attention.

The limited testing data now collected suggests once such wave is just beginning – at the height of summer – so continuing Covid’s dogged defiance of slipping into a traditional seasonal pattern like flu.

Although the acute phase of a Covid infection is much less serious for most people than it was in the pre-vaccine era, it has still been listed as one of the causes of death in 4,443 people so far this year.

Meanwhile, according to the Office for National Statistics, two million people in the UK report suffering from the debilitating collection of symptoms known as Long Covid.   Separately, multiple studies have also shown an increased risk of heart attack and stroke after Covid infection.

Against that backdrop, private Covid vaccines were finally introduced in the UK earlier this year, enabling those not being offered an NHS jab to pay for one at a chemist – just as they can with the annual flu shot.

Vaccines available include those by Pfizer and Novavax – with the former being based on mRNA technology and the latter a protein-type jab.   Prices vary across different outlets – and also depend on which vaccine is chosen by the patient – but range loosely from £50 to £100.

The LDRS approached the three local authorities in Lancashire with responsibility for public health, along with local and national NHS bodies, to establish what advice was being offered regarding the purchase of a private Covid jab – and found that there was none.

Dr. Sakthi Karunanithi, Director of Public Health, Wellbeing and Communities at Lancashire County Council, said: “The spring booster for Covid-19 is only offered for free to those who are more likely to get seriously ill with the virus.

“Although it is not actively promoted or recommended for other groups, it may be available in some pharmacies, just like the flu vaccine, so people can make a personal choice.”

Blackpool Council referred the enquiry to the Lancashire and South Cumbria Integrated Care Board (ICB), while Blackburn with Darwen Council said it was a matter for the government’s Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC).

However, the ICB advised that its role was to promote NHS vaccines to those who are eligible for them – and so was not in a position to comment on the privately available jab.

NHS England also referred the request to the DHSC, but the latter did not respond after twice being approached by the LDRS.

‘Get it while you can’

The NHS in the North West is, however, encouraging those residents who are eligible for the spring booster to book their vaccine before the current campaign ends on 30th June.

As of this week, only 60 percent of over 75-year-olds had taken up the offer of a jab nationally, while in the North West, just under two thirds of care home residents have received their latest shot.

Statistics from the UK Health Security Agency regarding last year’s spring vaccination programme showed that those who received a booster were up to 50 percent less likely to be admitted to hospital with the virus for three to four months after vaccination, compared to those who did not receive one.

A number of walk-in sites are available for the spring booster, as well as appointments at hundreds of sites including GP practices and pharmacies, which can be booked through the NHS App, by calling 119 or by visiting the NHS website.

Dr Linda Charles Ozuzu, senior responsible officer for the Covid-19 vaccination programme for NHS England (North West), said:

“Covid-19 can still be dangerous for those most vulnerable, so it is vital that people come forward for a top up jab if eligible. I’d particularly like to remind younger people who have a weakened immune system because of a health condition or medication that they are eligible for the spring vaccine and urge them to come forward before the offer finishes at the end of this month.”

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