Eluned Morgan MS, Minister for Health and Social Services
During the course of the spring booster campaign, a group of people have been identified incorrectly as being eligible for an additional vaccination. This means that more people than the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) initially intended to be eligible for the booster have either received, been invited or are due to receive an invite for vaccination.
On 16 May, health boards identified a potential discrepancy between the eligibility criteria determined by the JCVI and those presenting for vaccination. My officials became aware of this on 17 May and we have worked with the NHS Delivery Unit, health boards, Digital Health and Care Wales (DHCW) and Public Health Wales to investigate the issue further.
Throughout the vaccination programme, we and other UK Governments, have accepted and followed the advice of the JCVI in relation to which groups – and in which order – they should be offered a primary course of vaccination and subsequent boosters.
The JCVI has consistently recommended prioritising vaccination for individuals who are immunosuppressed.
The reason for the confusion was because the eligibility criteria for the immunosuppressed group are broader for the spring booster campaign than in previous campaigns. To ensure all individuals meeting the broader criteria are offered a spring booster it has been necessary to create a new cohort within the Welsh Immunisation System (WIS) – this is the system used by the NHS to manage and record the vaccinations offered and administered to these individuals.
Our investigation has concluded that in creating the new broader immunosuppressed cohort in WIS, approximately 9,500 people have been incorrectly included as being eligible for a spring booster. All those who have been incorrectly identified have been included in the clinically extremely vulnerable group of people who are eligible for antiviral and antibody treatment if they get Covid-19.
This error can be attributed to differences in the criteria for vaccination and treatment. It is important to note that all these individuals are at high-risk of developing severe illness if they get Covid-19 and some will already have been eligible for a spring booster because they meet other eligibility criteria, for example they may be over 75 or resident in a care home for older people.
Having carefully considered the options available and the clinical and ethical advice I have received, I have decided to honour the offer of an additional vaccination to all those who have been incorrectly identified as eligible for a spring booster vaccination. In doing so I want to be clear that this does not represent a decision to extend our programme beyond the eligibility criteria advised by the JCVI.
We have sufficient supply of vaccine in Wales to provide additional appointments and booster vaccines and we do not expect this decision to have any impact on eligibility for vaccination in the autumn.
The group of individuals affected are among those at higher risk of severe illness if they get Covid-19 and are therefore likely to benefit from a booster vaccination. Of course, like any treatment, vaccination can carry a small risk of adverse events, however side effects are usually mild and self-limiting.
In deciding to honour the offer, I have carefully considered the benefits and risks and the potential confusion and anxiety which would be caused by withdrawing the offer at this stage. Taking up an offer of vaccination is a choice, and those people in this group who have not yet been vaccinated will have a choice about whether to accept or decline the vaccine, supported by advice from clinicians in our vaccination centres.
We will make sure all individuals affected are aware of the situation and we will apologise for the error. They will be assured about the benefits of receiving an additional vaccination if they have already received it and additional advice, to support their decision making, if they have not yet received it.
A lessons learned exercise has also been started to ensure any learning from this incident can be fed back into the planning and management of future phases of, what continues to be, our excellent vaccination programme.