The UK removed people with moderate forms of asthma from the high-priority group for vaccination, which pushes their vaccination date past April
Currently, 5.4 million people in the UK are receiving treatment for asthma. On a normal day, around 3 people in the UK die of an asthma attack. And then there are the 200,000 people with severe asthma, which doesn’t respond to usual treatments and requires a hefty amount of hospital downtime.
The price of asthma medicine is still £400 a year
Dr Samantha Walker, Director of Policy and Research at Asthma UK, explained that roughly 1.3 million people in the UK were unable to afford their asthma medication. Asthma medication is not on the prescription exemption list, meaning that people with the respiratory condition are paying as much as £400 per year to afford to breathe.
Often, those 1.3 million individuals go without the necessary medications in order to pay their bills and buy food.
With a marked increase in pollution, the ongoing threat of COVID-19, and many losing their jobs – it seems callous that respiratory medication comes with a price.
Air quality is killing people in cities like London – where pollution was legally ruled a factor in the death of Ella Kissi-Debrah, a young schoolgirl with severe asthma. The coroner said: “The whole of Ella’s life was lived in close proximity to highly polluting roads. I have no difficulty in concluding that her personal exposure to nitrogen dioxide and PM was very high.”
The prescription exemptions list was created 50 years ago, but never reviewed since that moment.
COVID-19, being a respiratory virus, has created significant fear among the asthmatic community. Initially, the Government listed all forms of asthma as a vaccination priority.
Recently, this decision was unmade.
Now, only individuals with severe asthma will be in the fourth priority group for COVID vaccination – if they have a shielding letter.
People with lesser forms of asthma are now unsure about when they can take the COVID-19 vaccine, but it is expected to be with the general population in Autumn, 2021.
‘There is limited data’
A North American study conducted in July 2020 found no significant impact of asthma on COVID. But the researchers also said: “There is limited data as to why this is the case – if it is physiological or a result of the treatment to manage the inflammation.”
It was thought that individuals with asthma were being extremely careful and taking their medicine more thoroughly in response to the pandemic.
These people were seen to act more hyper-vigilant about their health, creating a better outcome possibly by following hygiene and distancing measures.
Could asthma steroids make COVID-19 worse?
The US researchers also found that inhaled corticosteroids, commonly used to protect against asthma attacks, could decrease the body’s immune response and worsen inflammation. Steroids seem to slow down the body’s fight against COVID-19, which means that scientists still need to understand if steroids would impact how an asthmatic responds to the virus.
People with asthma are more likely to have long COVID
In October 2020, King’s College London found that people with asthma were more likely to develop long COVID, a lingering form of the virus that keeps a person sick for weeks or months on end. These symptoms can make it difficult for individuals to work or resume their quality of life.
They found that one in 20 people were likely to experience long COVID.
Professor Tim Spector, COVID Symptom Study lead and Professor of Genetic Epidemiology from King’s commented: “COVID-19 is a mild illness for many, but for one in 50 symptoms can persist for longer than 12 weeks.”
‘Greater risk of ICU admission’
In 2021, researchers found a strong connection between asthma and people hospitalised with ordinary flu. PhD candidate Katina Hulme, at the University of Queensland, explained that “these individuals were at a greater risk of ICU admission.”
The team explained that this was due to asthma’s suppression of the immune system. Currently, the UK is offering asthmatics free flu jabs annually – but no free medication or priority access to the COVID vaccine.