Patient outrage as NHS is blocked from supplying Covid drug to vulnerable patients who are not protected by vaccines
- Evusheld can provide protection to patients with diseases such as blood cancer
- The drug can help those who do not receive any protection from Covid vaccines
- Experts believe as many as 500,000 Britons stood to benefit from Evusheld
Health chiefs were condemned last night after refusing to approve a drug that protects vulnerable patients – including those with blood cancer – who don’t respond to Covid vaccines.
Ministers were poised to roll out the medication Evusheld last month, having been urged to by NHS specialists.
But on Friday, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) announced there was ‘insufficient data’ that the drug provided long-lasting protection against the Omicron variant, and asked the health regulator the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to investigate. It isn’t expected to give guidance until next April.
Doctors reacted in fury, arguing that multiple studies have proven that Evusheld – developed by AstraZeneca and also known as cilgavimab – is effective at preventing hospitalisation and death from Covid. Data also shows it holds up against newer variants, such as Omicron.
NHS doctors wanted to start treating vulnerable patients with Evusheld, which provides protection against Covid-19
Patients, such as those who have had organ transplants are at greater risk of getting Covid-19 because vaccines are less effective
As many as 500,000 Britons stood to benefit from Evusheld – the majority have blood cancer or an organ transplant, both of which leave the immune system weakened and drastically limits the protection provided by Covid jabs. One patient group said it had received numerous calls from distraught patients who have been shielding for more than two years.
Some, they claim, have been left suicidal by the news.
Dr Lennard Lee, a cancer expert at Oxford University and lead author of an independent analysis of Evusheld, said: ‘We don’t know who was on the team that advised the Government, and we don’t know what evidence they looked at.
‘This call happened behind closed doors and it is all highly strange.
‘The UK is at odds with the world on this decision. The 32 countries which have approved this drug haven’t seen problems.
‘If the Government knows something the rest of the medical world does not, they should reveal it.’ Only two weeks ago, The Mail on Sunday revealed a clinical consultation which analysed every piece of publicly available data on the drug had come to the conclusion that Evusheld should be rolled out in the UK.
Signed off by more than 100 NHS doctors, it called on Ministers to purchase the £800-a-dose drug.
Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday, former health secretary Andrew Lansley indicated talks between health chiefs and AstraZeneca had reached contract stage before the apparent U-turn on Friday.
Lord Lansley expressed surprise at the move and said approval had been ‘expected’. ‘The effectiveness of Evusheld is something we can see say by day as it’s rolled out in other countries,’ he added.
According to the charity Blood Cancer UK, as many as 500 so-called immunocompromised Britons have died of Covid since regulators approved Evusheld for use in March.
‘Our members are devastated,’ says Mark Oakley, co-leader of campaign group Evusheld For The UK.
‘Sadly, we have had some at breaking point saying they are suicidal. This is the grim reality of this decision.
‘What makes this even worse is the bizarre U-turn which appears to have occurred, with the Government one minute suggesting they were getting ready to roll out Evusheld and the next saying there’s insufficient evidence.’
There are, however, suggestions that the decision is not final. According to a DHSC spokesman, Health Secretary Steve Barclay has asked his officials to meet again with experts from British manufacturer AstraZeneca in the coming days to establish if real-world data on the effectiveness of Evusheld has emerged.