Only people with severe asthma will be prioritised for the Covid-19 vaccine, the government has confirmed.
The announcement comes following previous guidance which indicated steroid-inhaler users would be included on the priority list, but it has since been judged this group is not at increased risk of death.
Which asthma sufferers are a priority?
Some asthma sufferers will be eligible to be vaccinated in the sixth priority group, after the over 65s and frontline healthcare staff.
Those who qualify for the sixth priority group include:
- People who have received a letter advising them to shield
- People who have had an emergency asthma hospital admission
- People who have had three oral (tablet or liquid) steroid prescriptions over a three month period
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the decision to only include these severe asthma sufferers in the priority list comes following independent advice that the immediate goal should be to “prevent deaths and protect health and care staff, with old age deemed the single biggest factor determining mortality”.
A DHSC spokesperson said: "This prioritisation captures almost all preventable deaths from Covid-19."
‘Not at greater risk of dying’
People with non-severe asthma are considered by the NHS to be at increased risk from Covid-19, but are not at risk of dying from the virus.
Asthma has also been linked to an increased risk of "long Covid", which has seen some people suffer with an array of lasting symptoms for weeks or months after the initial infection has cleared.
Anyone with the condition who requires a steroid inhaler or tablets is usually offered a free annual flu jab, leading many to question why they are being treated differently for the coronavirus vaccine rollout, where only people who take oral steroids are considered.
Asthma UK said the government has assessed evidence which suggests people with mild or moderate asthma, even those using high doses of inhaled steroids, were not at greater risk of dying from Covid-19.
Who is clinically vulnerable?
There are nine priority groups in total for the coronavirus vaccine, which is set out by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
Now that these top four groups have been offered their first dose, the government is aiming to offer the jab to the next five priority groups by the end of April, including the over 50s and people deemed clinically vulnerable.
This includes people who:
- are 70 or older
- have a lung condition that's not severe (such as asthma, COPD, emphysema or bronchitis)
- have heart disease (such as heart failure)
- have diabetes
- have chronic kidney disease
- have liver disease (such as hepatitis)
- have a condition affecting the brain or nerves (such as Parkinson's disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis or cerebral palsy)
- have a condition that means they have a high risk of getting infections
- are taking medicine that can affect the immune system (such as low doses of steroids)
- are very obese (a BMI of 40 or above)
- are pregnant
The next set of priority groups has yet to be laid out, but it is expected to include people with both a wider range of health conditions and in a broader group of occupations, such as police officers and teachers.
Asthma UK is now calling for people with non-severe asthma to be priorities ahead of their peers once the first nine priority groups have been vaccinated.