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Covid Vaccine Priority List Leaves Some Chronically Ill People in Limbo

TW: Medical fatphobia, medical neglect, eating disorder mention.

Note about language: The author of this piece uses the word “fat” to describe herself – reclaiming the word as it has been used against her in the past.

I get a free NHS flu jab. Which is apparently because my BMI (a bull measurement that was never meant to measure individuals but populations, and says nothing about your worth) is above a certain number – one which apparently makes eyes water and a nurse practitioner offer weekly weigh-ins to patients with eating disorder histories. But that’s a whole different article.

No, I don’t get it for my fibromyalgia – primarily a nerve condition which leaves me with intense pain and often a rundown feeling. I don’t get it for anything that may be causing the hypermobility that was noted and never investigated. No, it’s because I’m fat.

And now, the covid vaccine is on the horizon. It has, in the word’s of Britain’s Prime Minister (I can’t bring myself to say his name, and I don’t want to swear) been delivered over the crest of the hill by soldiers sounding an alarm from their left eye socket and a syringe sticking out of their bum. I may have paraphrased. But it’s here, and so are the prioritisation guidelines

Care home residents and staff are first in the queue, as they should be, and over 80s and front line workers, followed by those over 75. But then we get into the trickier territory. Next is over 70s and the clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV), followed by over 65s. Then it’s those aged 16-64 with certain conditions that didn’t fall into the CEV category earlier – thus splitting those who normally receive free NHS flu vaccines across two priority groups.

If you have a suppressed immune system from a condition or treatment, you’re on both lists. In treatment for cancer, both. Kidney issues, organ transplants, issues with your spleen, ditto. Of course, those with severe respiratory issues are in there. So who is waiting two prioritisation categories later for theirs? Heart, liver, pancreas issues. Those with severe learning difficulties or severe mental illness.

Me, in that awfully named category of “morbidly obese”. The big exception of NHS flu jab recipients who aren’t CEV is those with neurological issues. A member of my family who suffered brain injury as a baby isn’t CEV and doesn’t have to shield, and we don’t know when they’ll get theirs. Talk to The Unwritten staff member Cath, who is epileptic – she never got that letter either. Epilepsy charities are fighting for those with the condition to be included in with those on list one, and of course, why shouldn’t they be?

Outside of neurology, a pattern seems to emerge. Call me cynical, but there is a significant minority of people that would be fine with the severely mentally ill or learning disabled being shunted away, and say if you’re fat and/or you drink too much that it’s your own damn fault anyway. Grouping heart disease, diabetes (pancreas) and morbid obesity into “eating too much” and liver disease into “drinking too much” (although that may not even be why in any of these cases) makes it easy for these people to attempt to justify even bumping us even further down the list.

Mid first wave, some stats around COVID grabbed headlines. First was that there were more cases in Black, Asian and Minority Ethnicity (BAME) communities – which I’ll leave discussion of to BAME writers – and the one that stuck in my mind, for obvious reason, was about us fat people.

The BMJ reports a BMI of 35-40 increases risk by 40%, while being over 40 – like myself and my fellow NHS flu jab recipients – can see a 90% increase. When internet commentators and twitter trolls support fat shaming me, it’s ostensibly because they “care about your health”, but when it comes to elbowing me out of the way for a COVID jab, who cares about my health now?

Prioritisation decisions have to be made, I understand that, and in general I have no issues with where most people are falling on this list. But like much else the government has so far managed to bungle in this pandemic so far, the splitting of those who usually receive an NHS flu jab into two groups in the way they have raises eyebrows.

I don’t want to think my government (well, I didn’t vote for them, but you know what I mean) is making the decision to shove people down the list in the hope that they’ll succumb to covid in the meantime – saving themselves cash on disability benefits, or because they can write off certain groups as being the makers of their own downfall. It wouldn’t even surprise me if they’d left those with neurological disorders off the CEV list precisely to defend against this exact claim. 

As I say, I know you’ll call me cynical, and I’d rather not believe it, but have you seen their track record?

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