Calls grow for government to order Covid drug to boost protection for vulnerable
December 23 2021, 1.15pm
The calls come as Covid cases continue to rise across the UK. One person in 30 in England was infected with coronavirus in the week ending June 25, and over 11,000 hospital beds in the country are filled with Covid-positive patients.
Evusheld is being used in countries including the United States and Israel but the UK government has yet to ask AstraZeneca for supplies.
In a letter published in The Times today, Gemma Peters, chief executive of Blood Cancer UK, and Lord Mendelsohn, co-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Vulnerable Groups to Pandemics, say that this represents a failure of a promise made at the start of the pandemic that the government would “do everything in its power to protect the vulnerable”.
They write: “People who are immunocompromised are still dying from Covid at much higher rates than the rest of the population. They cannot afford to wait. They deserve better.”
Trials showed Evusheld cuts the risk of symptomatic disease by 77 per cent.
UK health officials are believed to want more data on the drug’s efficacy against Omicron as the trials were done before the variant emerged.
However campaigners say that the drug is likely to remain effective, even if it needs to be given at a higher dose, and that urgent action is needed.
Peters said: “Around 100 people with blood cancer are dying of Covid a month in England and Wales, and with the infection rate extremely high at the moment, it is vital they are given every possible protection.
“The government is rightly proud of how the vaccine programme has given protection to the general population, but we have yet to see the same sense of urgency in protecting people whose weakened immune systems mean the vaccines have not worked as well.
“Steve Barclay should make his first act as secretary of state for health and social care to make Evusheld available, which would be an important step towards protecting immunocompromised people against Covid.”
Adrian Warnock, a doctor and blood cancer patient, was a volunteer in the Evusheld clinical trial and is frustrated that he cannot get a second dose. He is campaigning for the government to fund the treatment.
He said: “Evusheld will offer us similar levels of protection to the vaccines in those with working immune systems. Vaccination wasn’t paused just in case it didn’t work quite as well in new variants. There is good evidence from the UK and other countries that Evusheld continues to be effective against all current variants.”
A spokesman for AstraZeneca said: “We hope to supply the UK once the government confirms that it intendeds to procure Evusheld and that the NHS will provide pre-exposure prophylaxis for UK patients. There is a high global demand so we are prioritising supply to the countries where agreements are in place.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “We recognise the strong interest from patients in receiving Evusheld as a preventative therapy prior to exposure of Covid.
“We have been conducting an assessment of Evusheld, which includes asking clinicians to advise on the most appropriate option for the NHS in line with all available data, and ministers are considering the advice which has been presented to them.”