For most of the country, the roll out of the vaccines represents two things: the return of freedom and the end of fear. But for me and the 230,000 others in the UK who are living with blood cancer, the nightmare goes on.
I am one of many who has received one of those emails that sends your stomach into freefall. As I sat in my workroom at home, staring at my laptop, I could hardly take in the message from my GP: the results of my Covid antibody test were negative. Three weeks after my second vaccine dose for Covid-19, here I was discovering I had no immunity.
It couldn’t have been more different from the feeling I had as that first injection went into my arm. After a year of shielding as a highly vulnerable person – no shops, restaurants and even distancing from my school-attending son – I was back to square one.
There have long been fears the vaccines won’t work as well for us because we have weakened immune systems, and it is now increasingly clear this fear is being realised. The scientific evidence is compelling and mounting. Moreover, the latest intensive care data shows a staggering one in twenty new Covid admissions are for people with blood cancer, up from one in 70 earlier in the pandemic, while research shows we are much less likely to have antibodies after having the vaccines. Despite having the vaccine I am one of those people who have no antibodies at all. Tragically, the charity Blood Cancer UK has already started hearing stories from families of people with blood cancer who have had the vaccine but then gone on to develop Covid and die.
The people with blood cancer I speak to as part of my work with the Follicular Lymphoma Foundation tell me they feel they are becoming the pandemic’s forgotten victims. We’ve seen the Government spend countless millions on public health messaging, but it feels like it has been silent on the lifesaving message that people with compromised immune systems need to continue being careful even after having a vaccine.
Too many people with blood cancer aren’t aware they may not be protected - the Government needs to urgently prioritise telling them this and needs to offer support for those people who want to continue minimising social contact. It’s wrong, for example, that people with blood cancer who can’t work from home are having to choose between their finances and their health.
The stark fact is that right now the question of whether the vaccines work for people with blood cancer is a lottery. Some of us will be protected, some of us won’t. But no one knows which ones. We need answers as quickly as possible about which people they are most likely to work for.
The question of whether the vaccines work for people with blood cancer is a lottery
Blood cancer patients are at greater risk of fatality from contracting Covid-19 and we are less protected that everyone else from the current vaccination programme.
Given the urgency, you would think the NHS would be taking samples from everyone with blood cancer as part of a national effort to get answers. Even if they stuck to traditional research projects, there are teams of researchers lined up and ready to get going. But despite promises, the Government has failed to fund the research properly. After spending so many billions on our Covid response, it is lamentable that it is now failing to find the few hundred thousand pounds extra it would cost to do this research properly. And every day it fails to provide proper funding means a day longer people with blood cancer will have to wait before they get the answers they need.
In response to this failure of leadership, Blood Cancer UK is leading a group of charities to fund the vaccine efficacy research that the Government isn’t. I’m pleased that they are, but it should not be left to charities to have to find out basic information about how well the vaccines will work for people with blood cancer. It is to the Government’s shame that they are having to.
To contribute to Blood Cancer UK’s vaccine research, visit bloodcancer.org.uk
Watch Nicola Mendelsohn, Vice President of Facebook EMEA, in conversation with Evening Standard Editor Emily Sheffield at London Rising tomorrow, 1.25pm-1.50pm or on demand. Tickets to this online event are free, register at londonrising.standard.co.uk