Republic of Ireland news

Call for urgent review of vaccine priority level for heart failure patients in Republic

Younger people living with severe heart failure are not deemed at very high risk under the Republic's national immunisation programme.
Cate McCurry, PA

There have been calls for an “urgent review” of the vaccine priority list to include heart failure patients, as studies show more than half of this group who contract Covid-19 subsequently die.

The data came from the Irish Heart Foundation and the HSE.

Younger people living with severe heart failure are not deemed at very high risk under the Republic's  national immunisation programme.

It has prompted the HSE’s National Heart Programme to call for under-70s, along with inpatients awaiting cardiac surgery, to be moved from level seven to level four of the priority list.

Many people with heart failure say they have stopped hugging their children when they return from school because they are terrified of contracting Covid-19.

Some have told the Irish Heart Foundation they ensure schoolchildren change out of their uniforms before entering the family home.

Pauline O’Shea, who was diagnosed with heart failure at 38, said she and many other patients across Ireland were warned of the grave risk Covid-19 poses to those with heart and respiratory issues, but they remain at level seven.

“Before my nine-year-old daughter returned to school this week, she wrote in her homework, ‘my mum has a heart condition and I’m worried I’ll give her Covid’,” Ms O’Shea said.

“This week alone, my children are in three different classrooms with anywhere from 10-30 children in each; that means I am indirectly exposed to up to 70 people – children, teens and young adults, any of whom might be carrying Covid 19.”

Ms O’Shea, 47, who lives in Ardnacrusha in Co Clare, had open heart surgery in 2012 after developing spontaneous coronary artery dissection – a tearing of the wall of the artery.

“I have had three heart attacks, gone into cardiac arrest, been in ICU, on a ventilator, I don’t need to go back there with Covid,” she added.

“I know another heart patient with two younger children who change out of their school uniforms before she can safely give them a hug.

“It’s very tough, but her condition is so serious that she can’t risk getting Covid-19 because she knows it could rob those children of their mother.”

UK research shows the 30-day mortality rate of patients with acute heart failure nearly doubled during the pandemic, while a Dutch study showed Covid-19 patients with severe heart failure are 37% more likely to die compared with other Covid patients in hospital.

HSE data to mid-December showed that of 1,866 Covid 19 deaths, 93% had a known underlying condition, and 41% of these had chronic heart disease – the most common type of condition.

The Irish Heart Foundation’s medical director, Dr Angie Brown, said there is broad consensus among cardiologists and the National Heart Programme that younger heart failure patients and those awaiting cardiac surgery who are at very high risk from Covid-19 are vaccinated without delay.

“Studies emerging on the impact of Covid on heart failure patients in particular are extremely worrying and require us to do more for those at higher risk,” Dr Brown said.

“We know that the National Heart Programme has challenged the prioritisation of heart failure patients and inpatients awaiting surgery.

“We are calling on the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, to order an urgent review of the priority level for these patients to ensure lives are not put at unnecessary risk.”

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