Cancer patients call on government to buy drug to protect people still shielding from Covid

Video Report by Granada Reports Political Correspondent, Lise McNally.

Pressure is mounting on the Government to buy a drug that could protect hundreds of thousands of people still shielding from coronavirus.

Eileen Molloy, from Standish in Wigan, is still shielding from Covid after most others have gone back to enjoying a normal way of life.

She has a type of blood cancer called Chronic lymphocytic leukemia and is currently on "watch and wait".

Eileen is immunosuppressed which means catching Covid could be dangerous as the vaccine does not give her the necessary protection.

Now the retired mental health nurse is one of thousands urging the Government to commit to funding the anti-viral drug Evusheld on the NHS.

The drug would allow Eileen to go back to living a full life as she did before Covid, going to yoga, joining an art group, travelling, and keeping fit and active.

She says: "I was a mental health nurse so I've used all the tools possible during this time, however, I can tell it's impacted on my mental health.

"I think we've just been left behind, this group of people who are immunocompromised. We were told to shield, we did, still are, and my question is - who's protecting us now?"

Eileen says Evusheld would help her get her life back to how it was before the Covid pandemic.

What is Evusheld?

Evusheld was developed by AstraZeneca for people with compromised immunity, such as cancer patients and those with an organ transplant.

It works by providing antibodies for those who can't produce them themselves, or those for whom ordinary Covid vaccinations are not recommended.

Those who are still shielding hope it will allow them to return to some form of normal life.

For Eileen Evushed would mean she would be able to go places and see her daughter without masks and Lateral Flow Tests.

At the moment, she feels let down by the Government's delay on this and says Evusheld would "give her her life back".

She said: "It makes me very angry, and I really can't understand - they are drawing this out.

"I've learnt recently that now Hungary and Greece are rolling it out, they're poorer countries than us, and I just think it's a disgrace.

"Basically I would be saying to the Government you have put my life on hold. I'm virtually in prison, but you can't see the bars."

A spokesperson for AstraZeneca said they have met regularly with the UK Government since August 2021, when the initial trials showed positive results.

They added that "the unmet need is significant for the immunocompromised in the UK."

So, why isn't it yet available to people like Eileen?

Evusheld has been rolled out in dozens of countries but is not yet widely available in the UK - despite the drug being approved for use by the UK medicines regulator in March 2022.

At the time, the government said "further testing" was needed to check whether Evusheld was effective against Omicron and other variants.

So far 18 charities have come together with patient groups and clinicians, calling for the urgent rollout of Evusheld - which they say could provide vital protection to hundreds of thousands of people.

Helen Rowntree, who is the Director of Research, Services and Engagement at Blood Cancer UK, doesn't understand this lengthy delay, adding "the silence from the Government has just been really deafening on this".

She said "We fully support that its appropriate for the Government to be testing, particular against new variants, but this treatment was proved by the MHRA as being safe and effective in March.

"Since then we've heard very little about what's happening behind the scenes, what the Government been looking at, how it's making those decisions, and that's been extremely frustrating for people who are already very anxious."

Evusheld costs around £800 for a six-month dose. Blood Cancer UK feels the economic argument for approving it on the NHS is very strong:

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said "We recognise the strong interest from patients in receiving Evusheld as a preventative therapy prior to exposure of Covid.

"We have been conducting an assessment of Evusheld, which includes asking clinicians to advise on the most appropriate option for the NHS in line with all available data, and ministers are considering the advice which has been presented to them."

But families who have already lost loved ones say the Government is "running out of excuses".

Michael Warren from Manchester had just finished chemotherapy when he caught Coronavirus.

His cancer treatment meant the Covid vaccine wasn't effective in helping his body mount an immune response, and he deteriorated rapidly.

The 59-year-old died in June, leaving a heartbroken family, and won't ever be able to meet his first grandchild, who is due in October.

The Warren family say they've been left to wonder how things might have been different if Evusheld was made available in the UK.

"Dad was in remission, he was expected to go on and live a normal, healthy life," Michael's daughter Chelsea explains, "Covid has stolen all of those years from us."

She continued: "It's difficult to get your head around sometimes that Evusheld was out there. It's frustrating, other countries have been rolling this out since December, January, and he tested positive for Covid in February.

"So theoretically there is every possibility that that could have been available, and that could have really made all the difference for him..."

"It would have given him more of a chance fighting against Covid"

The Warren family are now supporting the "Evusheld for the UK" campaign - wanting to spare other families the agony of wondering if their loved one could have been saved.

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