Leeds ME Network campaigner writes to Chris Witty over vaccine priority list as group six jabs begin

Letters are being sent to almost two million more people asking them to shield, with the recipients being assured they will have priority status for Covid-19 vaccinations.

By Georgina Morris
Thursday, 18th February 2021, 6:00 am

But it is not yet clear how many of those being afforded additional support are among the households who felt they had no choice but to shield, regardless of official lists.

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Charlie Wainwright, 24, was diagnosed with ME when she was 11 years old and campaigns on behalf of people with the neurological disease.

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Charlie Wainwright is interviewed in 2019 at the first Leeds Millions Missing event as part of a annual global protest for better understanding of ME.

A member of Leeds ME Network, she recently joined others involved with #MEAction UK to write to Chief Medical Officer Chris Witty and call for people with ME to be included in group six of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation's priority list as they are among those with an underlying neurological health condition.

When it comes to the issue of shielding, she said: "Support for many sufferers has not been present throughout the pandemic. Ultimately it comes down to how supportive each individuals GP is.

"Currently support groups are unaware of people with ME being added to the shielding list, despite the recent developments."

Likewise, Leeds Carers said it had been hearing from a lot of unpaid carers in the city who felt they needed to shield along with the person they cared for, even if neither of them were on the official list.

The Yorkshire Evening Post and sister titles are urging Prime Minister Boris Johnson to deploy the country’s network of 11,000 pharmacies to ensure that every citizen is only a short walk away from a vaccination centre.

Communications manager Kim Goulden said: "We're still hearing from people now who have continued to shield with the person they care for even when restrictions were lifted."

The original shielding period that began last March ended on August 1, but around 2.2m were advised to shield once again when the latest lockdown was introduced.

Now new modelling has identified people at higher risk based on multiple factors including age, ethnicity, body mass index (BMI), other health conditions and living in areas of deprivation.

As a result, 1.7 million more people in England get letters asking them to shield. They will receive the additional support available to those deemed to be clinically extremely vulnerable, including medicine deliveries, priority slots for supermarkets and statutory sick pay.

Ms Goulden said: "Leeds is actually very lucky as we have the Covid helpline - a joint initiative with the third sector and local authority - that co-ordinates support for anyone who needs help in Leeds, regardless of shielding status."

She said the focus for Leeds Carers was now on ensuring carers, who are part of the priority six group being called forward for their vaccines, get their jabs as soon as possible.

For Ms Wainwright and others with ME though, its appears their calls for priority access to vaccinations are yet to be answered.

"It is positive news for so many people that those added to the shielding list will be among the priority groups for vaccinations, though it is unclear how this will help better support those with ME," she said.

"Concerned patients are being told by their GP that ME does not put them into group six. This ignores the major risk of relapse that Covid-19 poses for people with ME."

The announcement about priority status for those shielding comes as the Yorkshire Evening Post and sister titles across JPIMedia continue our A Shot In The Arm campaign, calling for people to be provided with more easy-to-access information on the vaccine programme and its progress.

The campaign also asks for further reassurance for local communities and urges Prime Minister Boris Johnson to deploy the country’s network of 11,000 pharmacies to ensure that every citizen is only a short walk away from a vaccination centre.

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