Audrey Tudor is turning 99 on February 5. When news first broke that the Covid-19 vaccine would be rolled out in the UK, she and her daughter Kath were “delighted”. “Mum and I both thought that because of her age she might be one of the first to be vaccinated after those in care homes and care workers,” Kath told HuffPost UK. “How wrong we were.”
Seven weeks after 90-year-old grandmother Margaret Keenan became the UK’s first patient to receive the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine, the pair are still waiting. Kath describes a “very quiet Christmas” in North Devon spent anxiously anticipating a letter from the GP inviting her mother to be vaccinated. “I’ve been googling how many 98 or 99-year-olds there are in the UK and North Devon, and there are not that many,” she said.
“When I heard that the PM’s father had been vaccinated I knew something in the vaccine distribution was wrong. My mum was serving in the armed forces fighting in WW2 the year Stanley Johnson was born. It just didn’t seem right or fair.”
A great-grandmother of nine and former National Trust employee – she is a carriage-enthusiast who helped build the collection at the Carriage Museum at Arlington Court – Audrey has been “puzzled” as to the “endless” wait after a “very, very difficult” year spent with barely any contact with her family and friends.
“She can’t understand why the vaccine hasn’t reached her yet. She doesn’t live in the wilds of Exmoor, just six miles from the main hospital and seven miles from her GP surgery. The roads are passable, she has a telephone. There is no excuse.”
As Kath pointed out, “every day counts when you are nearly 99”. “Having the vaccine will mean she can plan to see her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She could have visitors and live the few years she might have left as she used to.”
Daphne Dickinson, who turns 95 in April, has also been desperately waiting for the vaccine and for the chance to finally see her family after self-isolating in Tetbury, in the Cotwolds, in March of last year.
Her daughter, Sarah, also described “anxiously waiting” for the appointment letter. “I was annoyed by this morning’s announcement because it gives the impression the over-80s have been vaccinated when that’s not true.” The two talk about the vaccine “every day” and Sarah said the wait had been “stressful”.
On Monday, the government announced people aged over 70 and over and the clinically extremely vulnerable will begin receiving invitations for coronavirus vaccinations from this week. It came as officials announced more than 4m people in the UK have received the first dose of a vaccine.
But HuffPost UK spoke to several people who said their elderly parents, all of whom were over the age of 90, had received no news regarding their vaccine appointments. One said hearing the latest announcement had only made things “even more frustrating” for their Lincolnshire-based mother, who is 94 and diabetic.
The mass coronavirus vaccination programme is ordered by a list of nine priority groups, determined by the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and involves a “combination of clinical risk stratification and an age-based approach”.
As of December 30, the priority groups for phase one of the vaccine rollout are:
- Elderly care home residents and their carers.
- All those 80 years of age and over and frontline health and social care workers.
- All those 75 years of age and over.
- All those 70 years of age and over and the clinically extremely vulnerable.
- All those 65 years of age and over.
- Everyone aged between 16 and 64 with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality.
- All those 60 years of age and over.
- All those 55 years of age and over.
- All those 50 years of age and over.
According to the latest figures released by the NHS, which are published every Thursday, more than one million people over the age of 80 have already received their vaccination. On Monday morning, health secretary Matt Hancock tweeted that more than half of all over-80s had already received their coronavirus jab.
John Kell, head of policy at the Patients Association, said the reports of over-90s not having received their vaccination “don’t necessarily amount to significant ‘inconsistency’”.
“The roll-out won’t be totally uniform across different areas,” he told HuffPost UK. “For instance, it will take longer to vaccinate over-80s in areas with higher concentrations of older people.”
Also, “preparations being underway to move onto the next priority groups doesn’t necessarily mean that 70 to 79-year-olds will actually be getting vaccinated before your two 90-year-olds,” he continued.
He said he wasn’t too concerned. “I wouldn’t want to be complacent about it but absent [any substantial evidence of inconsistency], it might be worth considering just how uniform a population-wide rollout is going to be, and whether some small variations are genuinely problematic relative to what one might expect to be achievable, particularly in the early stages when the NHS is still ramping up its vaccination capacity.”
The NHS figures do indicate that elderly people in certain areas are being vaccinated faster than in other places. In London, only 28,340 people over the age of 80 had received their second dose by January 10, whereas in the North East and Yorkshire, that number was almost twice at 50,125. That difference was even starker with over-80s who had received their first dose: 92,398 in London and 204,140 in the North East and Yorkshire.
One possible reason for the variability across regions could be the “teething problems” that the vaccine rollout has encountered since it first started. The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) warned GP surgeries were experiencing problems getting supplies of the vaccine to their patients.
In Surrey, GPs reported earlier this month having their expected vaccine deliveries cancelled because of a “logical delivery problem” which meant people over the age of 80 had their appointments cancelled or postponed.
In response, NHS Surrey Heartlands Clinical Commissioning Group said some vaccine appointments for the over-80s had to be postponed this week “due to circumstances outside of our control”.
Limited supply of vaccines has hampered the roll-out across the world with orders and demand far outstripping the number of approved vaccines that have actually came off the production line. At Monday’s Downing Street press conference, Hancock admitted the roll-out had been patchy – and that the precious supply was being “prioristised” in areas where over-80s have yet to be inoculated.
He said: “There are parts of the country that have made very significant progress and gone a bit faster than the average ... what we are doing now is making sure that while they will be able to move on to the next group, we’re prioritising the supply of the vaccine into those parts of the country that need to complete the over-80s.”
In London, health chiefs have admitted vaccines supplies were “constrained” after it was revealed the capital was receiving fewer doses of the Pfizer and Oxford vaccines per head of population than other areas, despite having the highest rate of coronavirus cases of any region.
London mayor Sadiq Khan said he was “hugely concerned that Londoners have received only a tenth of the vaccines that have been given across the country.”
He continued: “The situation in London is critical with rates of the virus extremely high, which is why it’s so important that vulnerable Londoners are given access to the vaccine as soon as possible.”
When HuffPost UK contacted NHS England for comment, it responded: “The NHS vaccination programme is off to a strong start in London, with hundreds of thousands of jabs now given. We’re adding more and more sites as vaccine supplies become available, and staff and volunteers are going the extra mile to vaccinate to those who need it most.
“Tragically, more than one thousand Londoners lost their lives to Covid last week, and nearly half of the capital’s hospital beds are treating those with coronavirus – so it is vital that people get protection against this devasting virus through a safe, effective and well-tested vaccine.
“As London comes together to deliver the largest vaccination programme in our history, we need people to stay home to help save lives.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said: “With millions already vaccinated, we are now able to begin rolling out the vaccines to people aged 70 and over and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable, in order to meet our commitment to offer vaccinations to the first four priority groups by the middle of February.
“To ensure the vaccines are distributed consistently across the UK, guidance to local vaccination services is clear that vaccinations must be offered to each of the priority groups in the order set by the independent JCVI.
“Invitations can now be sent to the next two eligible groups provided there is capacity and supply is not affected for the top two cohorts, who remain our utmost priority over the coming weeks.”