By Abi Edwards
The introduction of new vaccines has been a turning point for the fight against the coronavirus. With vaccinations being distributed all around the country, we are finally starting to see the light at the end of what has seemed like a never-ending tunnel. The BBC reported last week that more than 26.2 million people so far have received their first dose and around 2 million people have received their second dose, which has been positive news within a negative media landscape. Priority groups, including front line workers and the vulnerable elderly, are set to receive their first dose by mid-April, which makes up about 32 million people. The remaining 21 million are set to receive their first dose by mid-July, which seems like a promising, realistic target. However, this target will not be reached if people are failing to attend their appointments.
We are fortunate that scientists have been able to develop vaccinations against a new and very unpredictable virus, such as the Pfizer-BioNTech and the AstraZenica. Friday 19th March was a record-breaking day for their distribution, with 711,156 people in the UK having either their first or second dose. People who don’t attend appointments will decelerate this progress. For example, around 60 people recently failed to attend their vaccinations at a hub in Abergavenny, after verbally confirming to health workers over the phone that they would attend, which is extremely worrying.
For some of the missed appointments, patients have not been at fault. Swansea Bay University Health Board recorded 80 missed appointments in the Margam Orangery mass vaccination centre on March 1st. Despite letters being sent to patients, there was a delayed delivery, which may have been responsible for such a high number of missed appointments. These patients were subsequently notified about the issue and were offered new appointments. However, the majority of the time it is the patients’ active decision to not turn up without informing authorities.
This is not to call out those who cannot receive vaccinations for personal or religious reasons, those who have extreme allergies, or those who generally cannot make their vaccine appointment because of circumstances out of their control. However, it is your responsibility to let the NHS know if you can’t attend by calling 119. Mass vaccination centres have now opened up around the country, making it more likely that there is somewhere you can receive your vaccination near you, which rules out the issue of travelling too far.
Failure to turn up to vaccines means the possibility of life-saving doses being wasted and thrown away. This has led to a moral debate over leftover vaccines and how they should be handled and distributed. GPs and nurses have been distributing vaccinations to as many people as possible, and when people fail to attend appointments, they are put under pressure because vaccines have a limited shelf life. The Pfizer, for instance, can only be stored for five days when opened. In most cases, vaccines are given to eligible patients, who are usually the most vulnerable, unless they do not attend. Other vaccinations occur when people are in the right place at the right time to use leftover vaccines; otherwise they will go to waste.
There have been reports of friends and family of GPs and nurses being vaccinated with leftover doses, which has caused controversy as some people have had to wait longer than others to get their vaccination. This should only happen if every patient in the four priority groups has received it and other patients have been offered. If priority patients have been vaccinated and there are spare vaccines available, they should be used on other patients, as production remains in demand. Unfortunately, opportunity vaccinations are sometimes the only sustainable way to use up vaccines. Surely it is more moral to use them and protect as many people as possible instead of throwing them away, as long as the most vulnerable have been vaccinated first. After all, by July we should have all received our first dose.
We shouldn’t sugarcoat the fact that without people turning up to their planned vaccines, the longer it will take for the country to get back to normality. Without the majority of the population being fully vaccinated, we cannot combat this horrendous virus, which has cost over 126,000 people their lives. If you’re unable to have the vaccine or make your appointment, you should take into consideration that someone has been waiting for that phone call or letter for the gateway to protect their health, and to have their life back, for months. We shouldn’t deny a person that same opportunity if they are offered a leftover vaccine.
Luckily, the number of people not attending has been very low, and a spokesperson for the Welsh Government said that the number of vaccines unable to be administered was less than one per cent. Patients who cannot attend are also invited for a second appointment. Fortunately, we are still making progress.