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Open letter to GPs and healthcare professionals

With the vaccination programme underway and over 20 million people having now received their first dose, we are hugely encouraged by the rapid progress being made in combating Coronavirus. 

However, we are very concerned by recent reports from dozens of survivors of stroke or mini-stroke who should be in Covid-19 vaccination first phase priority group six. They tell us that healthcare professionals are turning them away when they attempt to make an appointment for a vaccination. 

Therefore, we ask all GPs and relevant healthcare professionals to adhere to the official priority groups guidance on the vaccine programme and offer a vaccine to all survivors, no matter what type of stroke and mini-stroke. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation and Public Health England guidance clearly states that all those who have had a stroke or mini-stroke are in priority group six. These adults must be offered a vaccination. This is true of all strokes, including subarachnoid haemorrhage and mini-stroke (also known as transient ischaemic attack, or TIA for short), which the NHS website makes clear are strokes. Furthermore, this is regardless of when the stroke occurred, or severity of disability.

The rollout of the vaccine to group six in many areas should be good news to stroke survivors. There are 1.2 million stroke survivors living in the UK today and stroke is the leading cause of adult disability. Many of them have been taking extra precautions during the pandemic because they are at a higher risk of a worse outcome after Coronavirus and many have clinical frailties that mean so it's vital they are offered the vaccine.

Despite the guidance, stroke survivors like Erin Losty, 38, from Essex, who appeared in the Stroke Association’s Rebuilding Lives TV advert, was recently told by her GP that she was not in priority group six for the vaccine. Erin explained that she had had a haemorrhagic stroke, also known as a bleed on the brain, but said her doctor did not recognise this as a stroke. Given that haemorrhagic strokes tend to be more fatal, lead to greater levels of disability, and are harder to treat than other types of stroke, it’s vital that there is universal recognition that this is a stroke. If not, then there is a danger that a stroke survivor may not qualify for a vaccine that will reduce their vulnerability to the severe effects of Coronavirus. This is just one of the dozens of concerning stories we are hearing every week.

Having an effective vaccine is the best way to protect the most vulnerable, our friends and our families and will save tens of thousands of lives. We will continue to support stroke survivors seeking to be vaccinated. We encourage them to follow the official guidance, which we have laid out clearly on the Stroke Association website. We hope that healthcare professionals will do the same.

Juliet Bouverie OBE
Chief Executive
Stroke Association

Professor Rustam Al-Shahi Salman
President of the British Association of Stroke Physicians (BASP) and honorary consultant neurologist in Edinburgh