UK decision not to buy Covid drug Evusheld disappoints charities

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 on Friday in an official statement to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, has been met with criticism from a host of charities who say it means many people who are immunocompromised will be left with no option but to avoid contact with loved ones for fear of catching Covid.

“We’re deeply disappointed to hear that today the government has announced that they have no plans to buy Evusheld. Many of our community will be left feeling let down and vulnerable,” said Helen Rowntree, the director of research at Blood Cancer UK.

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

“For months now Evusheld has been used in countries including the US and Israel and there is a significant body of evidence showing that this drug can reduce the chance of dying from Covid in those who are most vulnerable,” Rowntree said. “The decision today will mean that many people who are immunocompromised will be left with no other option than to isolate themselves from their loved ones.”

While people who are immunosuppressed, such as those with blood cancer or who are having chemotherapy, have been prioritised for Covid vaccines, research suggests they are less likely to produce a strong immune response to the jabs.

Evusheld is produced by the pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca and contains two long-acting monoclonal antibodies that help to prevent the coronavirus from entering cells, thereby 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 procure doses of Evusheld was down to a lack of data on the duration of protection offered by treatment in relation to the Omicron variant.

“We are determined to support the most vulnerable as we live with Covid and immunocompromised patients are a priority for other treatments, access to free tests and vaccination,” a government spokesperson said. “We continue to explore the market for promising treatments that could prevent infection, to add to the antibody and antiviral treatments that are already offered on the NHS. We remain in close touch with all relevant parties.”

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

“We are very disappointed to hear that Evusheld will not be considered for people who are not well protected by the vaccine. A lack of transparency and communication has left many unable to understand the process taken to reach this decision, and patients tell us that they are heartbroken after waiting so many months to hear whether this licensed treatment will be made available. We urge the government to think again,” she 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 anti-viral treatments, data shows that the immunosuppressed group remain the most at risk of dying from Covid, and while infections remain high, it is clear that urgent action is needed, especially for 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.”

Prof Danny Altmann, an immunologist at Imperial College London, said he agreed with the feeling of disappointment. “For the millions of clinically vulnerable in the UK, the notion that we are now 13 months into ‘freedom’ feels a cruel taunt,” he said. “In many countries across the world, the licensed monoclonals are a key element of their safety net. It’s a little hard to judge what was the divergent evidence appraisal that has led to such a different outcome for the vulnerable in the UK.”

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