UK decision not to buy Covid drug Evusheld disappoints charities

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The UK will not buy the drug Evusheld, which can help prevent Covid infections in people with weakened immune systems, the government has said.

The decision, revealed in an official statement on BBC Radio 4’s Today show on Friday, has been criticized by a host of charities who say it means many immunocompromised people will have no choice but to avoid contact with loved ones out of fear. to get covid.

“We are deeply disappointed to hear that today the government has announced that it has no plans to purchase Evusheld. Much of our community will feel let down and vulnerable,” said Helen Rowntree, director of research at Blood Cancer UK.

She said the charity was asking the government to outline its rationale and review the decision.

“For months, Evusheld has been used in countries like the US and Israel, and there is a significant amount of evidence showing that this drug can reduce the chance of dying from Covid in those who are most vulnerable,” said Rowntree. “Today’s decision will mean that many immunocompromised people will have no choice but to isolate themselves from loved ones.”

While immunocompromised people, such as those with blood cancers or receiving chemotherapy, have been prioritized for Covid vaccines, research suggests they are less likely to mount a strong immune response to injections.

Evusheld is produced by the pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca and contains two long-acting monoclonal antibodies that help prevent the coronavirus from entering cells, thus offering protection against infection. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency approved Evusheld for use in the UK in March this year.

The Department of Health and Social Care said the decision not to purchase doses of Evusheld was due to a lack of data on the duration of protection offered by the treatment in relation to the Omicron variant.

“We are determined to support the most vulnerable as we live with Covid and immunocompromised patients are prioritized for further treatment, access to free testing and vaccination,” a government spokesman said. “We continue to explore the market for promising treatments that could prevent infections, to add to the antiviral and antibody treatments already offered on the NHS. We remain in close contact with all relevant parties.”

Fiona Loud, policy director at Kidney Care UK, said more than one in 10 people previously considered clinically extremely vulnerable were still being protected as of May.

“We are very disappointed to learn that Evusheld will not be considered for people who are not well protected by the vaccine. The lack of transparency and communication has left many unable to understand the process used to reach this decision, and patients tell us they are heartbroken after waiting so many months to find out if this licensed treatment will become available. We urge the government to think again,” he said.

Covid infection levels in the UK appear to be falling but remain high. Another wave of Covid is expected later in the year.

Loud said: “Despite vaccination and antiviral treatments, the data shows that the immunocompromised group remains at the highest risk of dying from covid, and while infections remain high, it is clear that urgent action is needed, especially for the people who feel forgotten while the rest of the country returns to normal. The pandemic is far from over for kidney patients. We need action now before the winter months ahead.”

Professor Danny Altmann, an immunologist at Imperial College London, said he agreed with the sentiment of disappointment. “For the millions of clinically vulnerable people in the UK, the notion that we have 13 months of ‘freedom’ feels like a cruel mockery,” he said. “In many countries around the world, licensed monoclonals are a key element of their safety net. It’s a bit difficult to judge what was the assessment of divergent evidence that has led to such a different result for the vulnerable in the UK.”

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