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21 February 2022

Vulnerable people are effectively being told “go to hell”

Boris Johnson is lifting Covid restrictions without any plan to protect people such as me with compromised immune systems.

By Stephen Pollard

Boris Johnson is due to confirm the open secret later today that he is to lift all Covid restrictions. It won’t be exactly the same as George Bush standing on the USS Abraham Lincoln after the Iraq War under a giant “Mission Accomplished” banner, but it’s not far off.

Just as the real problems emerged in Iraq after victory was declared, arising from the absence of any plan to deal with the consequences, so now the absence of any plan to deal with the consequences of lifting the measures to tackle Covid spells disaster for up to half a million people.

Let me explain. By the end of this week, the plan is to lift remaining Covid restrictions — including any requirement to self-isolate after contracting Covid, requirement to wear masks, and free lateral flow tests. I have leukaemia. As such, my immune system doesn’t work properly. One consequence is that the vaccines which have proved such a medical miracle for the vast majority of people don’t work for me. So while most people are — wonderfully — able now to go about their daily lives in something close to normality, I can’t. In fact I’ve been stuck at home for most of the past two years, because while Covid may no longer be a death sentence for most, for those of us without a functioning immune system it may well still be so.

There are, depending on how you define clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV), anything up to half a million of us. Each of us has our own level of risk, and each of us decides what is safe for us. My consultant and I decided that it’s a reasonable risk for me to go outside, and even to visit friends — if they’ve had a negative lateral flow test. But public places are a big no.

If, as seems certain, the government does indeed let rip and scraps all requirements for isolation and such like, the message it sends to the clinically extremely vulnerable is clear: go to hell. Because there is no plan whatsoever to make life bearable for us. Nothing.

[See also: Ending masks and isolation will kill vulnerable people]

Let’s be clear: it is wonderful news for people for whom the vaccine works that life is getting back to normal. And neither I nor anyone else wants to stop that. The issue is that there is no plan alongside this for the CEV.

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If I was living in the US, or an increasing number of European countries, I would be offered as a preventive measure one of the wonderful new drugs (such as the antiviral Paxlovid and the long-acting antibody drug Evusheld) which can act as the equivalent of a vaccine for the CEV. That would mean that I would be free to go about my life almost like anyone else. Yes, I’d still have an increased risk, but I could correspondingly take more steps to protect myself (with a mask for example).

The government refuses to do this. Indeed, whenever ministers are asked about this they respond instead that the CEV have priority access to anti-virals for treatment if they catch the virus. That is of course a good thing, but no treatment is fully effective and the idea that we are expected to get Covid before any concern with us begins is something of a sick joke. 

I don’t want to get Covid in the first place and run the very real risk of dying. All I want is access to the medicines which would help to protect me. But that, it seems, is too much for the government to consider.

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