I have a confession to make. I have a bad dose of COVID vaccine envy. Sitting here on my grey sofa, my permanent perch since 23 March 2020, I get a sinking feeling every time I log on to social media.
Friends younger than me, but who live in more rural parts of Scotland – the Highlands, Ayrshire, Fife, gleefully share news of their jab (g). Friends even younger, but who live in England, were jabbed weeks ago.
And my sister, six years younger than me, but with the same rare, life threatening condition (antithrombin 3 deficiency) was done ten days ago. She lives in Dumfries and Galloway. I live in Lothian, which has the worst vaccination rate in the country.
News yesterday that people aged 56 to 59 in England can book their appointment online from tomorrow tipped me over the edge. Here in Scotland, where the Scottish government has centralised the vaccine programme, health boards have not yet (officially) started on my cohort, the 60 – 64-year-old age group, let alone moved on to youngsters like my 59-year-old husband.
And the criteria for being in the clinically vulnerable group seems to vary from health board. My sister has exactly the same condition as I and was put in priority group 6 (16 – 64 with an underlying health condition and unpaid carers).
My GP service told me the health board database didn’t accept I was clinically vulnerable. “So sorry”, shrugged the receptionist over the phone, “the correct code was entered, but there is nothing we can do”. And all I can do is wait.
I completed NHS Inform’s new “missing appointments” form a week ago, in the hope that someone deep in the system would hear my plea for my status to be reconsidered. COVID-19 can cause clots and strokes, and our condition puts us at significant risk of getting clots when our body is under stress, e.g., long-haul flights, pregnancy or COVID-19. Young family members have almost died from pulmonary embolisms. And my mother, who had a scan recently for another condition, was found to have several “old” clots in her lungs. If that is not clinically vulnerable, I don’t know what is.
The vaccine process in Scotland is different to that in England. There it is led by the primary care service, with GPs at the heart of the roll out. And citizens can book appointments online when their cohort is about to go live, so giving them some choice over location and timing.
Here in Scotland, the process is centralised. The Scottish government controls supply with the country’s 14 health boards, and in some areas, such as where I live, just outside Edinburgh, GPs are no longer vaccinating. When my appointment eventually comes, it will be for one of the mass vaccination centres in Lothian. The nearest one to my home is a drive-through only, and as I don’t drive, I will have to go to one up to 15 miles away, by public transport.
And I cannot find a way through the medical bureaucracy to challenge the database that says I am not at risk, yet my younger sibling is.
When our governments told us we had to stay at home to save lives, we did what we were told. We put our lives, and our livelihoods, on hold.
I am in a much better position than many people. I don’t have to risk my life every day, working in a shop, or in social care, like many of my peers.
But my life plan – travelling from 60 to 70, before old age finally starts to catch up with me and I have to retire permanently to the grey sofa – has been shredded. I have lost two of those precious years, and the vaccine is my only ticket to clawing back some of my precious time on the road, before I am too frail to hop on plane to Malawi, or dead.
I don’t want to jump the queue. But I do want to know why a clinical decision was taken about me without any explanation, and I really want to know when I am likely to get that first jab. Is that really too much to ask of the Scottish NHS? It seems so.