Many of those who are on immunosuppressive drugs and attending a rheumatologist may be confused or concerned about recent changes to the Covid 19 vaccination priorities in the Republic of Ireland.
This is to reassure you that if you are considered at increased risk of Covid 19 infection because of your illness or your medical treatment, these changes won’t make any difference to the order in which you will be vaccinated.
This is a video update on the current state of vaccination (as it pertains to rheumatology patients) as of 31/3/2021. These videos are for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. They are intended for patients currently under my care.
- Category 4 is only for rheumatology patients on Rituximab / Cyclophosphamide only
- Category 5 is for rheumatology patients aged 65-69 on immunosuppression
- Category 7 is for rheumatology patients aged 16-64 on immunosuppression
A lot has been made in the media about the relative effectiveness of the different vaccines for Covid 19. There is a perception out there that certain vaccines (eg Pfizer /Moderna) might be better than certain others (Astra Zeneca / Johnson and Johnson).
The bottom line, whatever you might read, is that they are all very effective at reducing the risk of hospitalisation or death. No one who has been fully vaccinated has died, or been admitted to hospital with a Covid 19 infection, in any of the vaccine clinical trials
The most effective vaccine is the one that’s in your arm….
Here is really good explainer from Vox magazine about the different vaccines which I found really helpful in understanding it.
Here are some more videos that I have prepared for patients currently attending me – about Covid 19 vaccinations, who is included (and who is not) in the new Category 4 vaccination group, an update on Methotrexate and vaccination, and on my own experience of being vaccinated (very positive!).
Summary: For the moment only patients on Rituximab / Cyclophosphamide included for Category 4 Covid 19 vaccination*. Most patients on standard immunosuppressive treatments (including methotrexate and biologics) would not be included in this group.
It should be watched in conjunction with earlier videos I have prepared on Covid 19 vaccinations
I hope you find them helpful.
*This group may later be expanded to include other very high risk groups. As soon as I am aware I will inform patients on here.
Here’s a series of videos which address questions I have had over the last couple of months from patients regarding the Covid 19 vaccine.
It is intended for patients who are currently under my care and especially for those who are on immunosuppressive treatments.
This is for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice – but I hope it goes some way to addressing some of your questions and concerns.
(And yes. I’ll be getting the Covid 19 vaccine as soon as its offered to me.)
For additional advice please check out the following:
Versus Arthritis (UK) charity information for patients
EULAR (European League Against Rheumatism) information about Covid 19 Vaccination
American College of Rheumatology information for patients re Covid 19 Vaccine
Results of a study examining the impact of Corona Virus / Covid 19 on rheumatology patients on immunosuppressive therapies have just been published.
The study assessed the outcomes of 600 rheumatology patients who developed Corona Virus infections and is the biggest study of its kind – and the results are promising.
The results are relevant to patients suffering from inflammatory arthritis (eg rheumatoid, ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis), SLE, Vasculitis where they are on immunosuppressive treatments.
Taking conventional DMARD therapies was not associated with an increased risk of hospital admission in those who developed Corona Virus infection.
Taking Biologic DMARD therapies was not associated with and increased risk of hospital admission in those who developed Corona Virus infection.
Taking steroids increased the risk of hospitalisation in doses of Prednisolone (Deltacortil / prednisone) of 10mg per day or higher.
Rheumatology patients on these medications who are at greatest risk of hospitalisation are those over 65, those with high blood pressure or heart problems, lung problems, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.
Until recently we have been trying to manage as many of our existing patients remotely using a combination of video consultations and phone. This has worked well and we will be using this facility for our patients – along side in-person care, into the future.
But as the curve continues to flatten, and as social distancing guidelines relax a little, we are beginning to see more and more patients face to face. Approximately 60% of our patients in the last 2 weeks have attended in person – and its so nice to see them back.
This is to reassure patients attending appointments in person that we have done everything possible to create a safe environment for those attending in person – with measures such as prescreening, the provision of surgical masks for our patients, personal protective wear for doctors, waiting room measures and strict office hygiene policies.
The facility to offer video consultations and phone assessments is still in place but we believe that more and more people will opt for in-person visits as we adapt to life alongside a virus which will be with us for some time.
This is also to reassure existing patients who are undergoing infusions as part of their treatment, that these infusions have not been affected by the HSE takeover of beds in The Galway Clinic or the Bon Secours Hospitals. It can take a bit longer to get scans and other tests done but we are still managing to get these for our patients where they are urgent.
Thanks for bearing with us during this difficult time.
In the last 24 hours some guidelines have been published by the Irish Society for Rheumatology (ISR) which offer advice additional advice (to the Stay at Home advice offered by the HSE) to patients on immunosuppressive therapies.
Because patients who are on treatments which suppress their immune systems are at higher risk than others, additional restrictions have been recommended to keep them safe.
Firstly, the guidelines help identify the medications which put patients at risk (see the blue box at the bottom of the graphic).
This list includes standard immunosuppressive therapies, biologic medications, and steroid medications.
High Risk Group
The guidelines also help identify those who are, because of their age, underlying medical problem(s), or steroid intake at especially high risk.
It recommends that those at especially high risk Cocoon.
Examples of those in the very high risk category would be those over 70 yrs, those taking regular steroids (prednisolone / deltacortril), those with underlying heart or lung problems, high blood pressure, recurrent infections, or those with diabetes.
Increased Risk Group
Those on immunosuppressive treatments who do not fall into the high risk group still need to be careful. They still need follow the HSE stay at home guidelines, can exercise outside, but two additional recommendations are made; that they limit social contact, and that they do avoid shopping.
It is Cocooning advice but with an allowance for exercise.
The Government have identified certain categories of workers who are deemed essential, many of whom are keen to stay at work despite the fact that they are immunosuppressed. This is very challenging. Many of those who are in this category who are under my care, have been calling because they are either keen to remain at work, or anxious to remain at home.
My feeling on this is that those who are immunosuppressed should not be in any work environment where they could be exposed to someone with Corona Virus infection.
As there are so many who could be infected, even without symptoms of Corona Virus, any contact is a potential source of infection.
Anything other than staying at home is going to increase their risk. Home working seems to be the obvious solution where practical for most.
This is going to be an increasing problem for those working in healthcare over the among months. I’m not sure I have a simple solution for this – but expect that if you are on any of immunosuppressive treatments on this list – and you inform your employer (and you should), it is likely you will be sent home.
Updated safety information
Over the coming weeks, we will begin to get a sense of the impact of Corona Virus infection for rheumatology patients from an international research project which aims to define the risk more clearly. Until we know more, I would err on the side of caution.
Many of you attending the practice are on treatments that increase could your risk of infection and are appropriately trying to stay close to home. With social distancing and stay home advice, attending appointments in person can be difficult.
However those with arthritis and other related conditions, are all too aware that flare ups can occur at any time (especially at times of stress). People will remain unwell from their underlying conditions regardless of whether they develop a Corona virus infection. There are certain problems can wait, but others that require more urgent medical attention.
We are trying to offer a service that is both appropriate to acute medical needs of our patients but also one that is as safe as possible. We have therefore put a number of measures in place to allow us to continue to help our patients as safely as possible.
Firstly, this to reassure you that our office is still open. All of your team are available to answer your queries and concerns by phone or by email.
However, In addition to strict office staff adherence to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HSPC) guidance on social distancing and hygiene in the workplace, we have put in place a number of other measures to reduce the likelihood of Corona virus infection in our office.
These are to allow us to maintain essential medical services for our patients while ensuring the safety of our patients and staff.
Postponing Non Urgent Visits
Only patients with semi-urgent, urgent problems, or emergencies are being seen in person. All non-urgent appointments have been postponed or are being performed remotely using video consultations or phone visits. Each patients problems will be assessed in their own right but we will be erring on the side of caution where infection risk is concerned.
Video Consultations and Phone visits
All efforts are being made to carry out visits over internet based video consultations and phone to minimise unnecessary visits to the office. This in turn will reduce the number of patients attending the office in person and traffic through the waiting room area.
Minimising likelihood of exposure to Corona Virus infection for those who need to attend in person.
Suite 19 is in a part of the building separated from main hospital by a lobby and restaurant (which is currently restricted to staff). The Galway Clinic is not a designated receiving hospital for patients with Corona Virus infections and is not receiving visitors.
All patients who need to attend in person are pre-screened within 24 hours of attendance for common symptoms or risk factors of Corona Virus infection including; recent travel abroad, contacts with those infected (or suspected of being infected) with Corona Virus.
All patients screened again at main entrance of the hospital by Galway Clinic staff. Those with symptoms or risk factors will be asked to phone office and assessed by doctor before entering office.
The practice is following HSE / HSPC guidelines in relation to management of health care workers, and measures are in place to reduce the potential risk of spread of infection between members of staff and between staff the our patients.
Waiting room measures
- All those attending will be asked to wait in their car and will be contacted when it is time to come to office to reduce minimise spent in the waiting room.
- Appointments are also spaced appropriately to reduce congestion in the waiting room.
- All waiting room chairs are spaced 2 meters apart.
- All patients asked to clean hands on entry at reception with alcohol gel and on leaving.
- Protective screens have been put in place to limit contact between patients and staff in the office and all of non-essential paper work between patients and staff has ceased.
Doctors assessing patients will wear appropriate protective masks, gloves, aprons and goggles and maintain appropriate social distancing except where close physical examination or a procedure are required.
All relevant surfaces will be disinfected between patient visits
Appointment visit times will be kept to a minimum to reduce any potential exposure to infection.
These measures may change over the coming weeks so please check back here for further updates.
If you have any concerns of questions about your visit or these measures please email us on email@example.com
Version Created by Dr. Ronan Kavanagh March 30th 2020. Updated 2/4/2020
I have prepared some short videos which I hope address most questions that my patients might have about cocooning and who needs to do it.
The HSE guidelines relate to all patients who are immunosuppressed which includes many of you who are attending my practice.
For more detail check the HSE guidance for those at increased risk of serious Corona virus infection.
Most of those taking hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) for illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, will be aware that the drug is in demand as a an experimental treatment for Corona virus infections.
As a result, some patients are finding it difficult to get timely supplies from their pharmacy.
Despite reassurance from the HSE that stocks are being managed to ensure supply, I have had a few calls from patients experiencing difficulty getting their medications.
If you are on Hydroxychloroquine and are unable to get your regular supply, here’s a few suggestions I have been making to my patients;
Phone around. Some pharmacies may stocks in place even if your regular pharmacy is having difficulty sourcing your medications.
Don’t panic. In the same way it can take some time for hydroxychloroquine to start working, it may also take some time to wear off. It takes approximately 40 days for the drug to clear completely from your system (although your symptoms may return before that). Manufacturing of this drug is being ramped up so it is my hope that additional supplies will become available soon.
A dose reduction can be considered. For patients who have some drug left, it may be possible to reduce the dose to delay the time it will take for your disease to flare. If you are a patient of mine and want to consider this, please ask before doing this.
If you get a flare of your arthritis / lupus. In the event that you are a patient of mine and develop a disease flare, please arrange an appointment. I am doing nearly all of my appointments using video consultations at the moment so should be able to help.
How to contact us. If you are an existing patient of mine, please contact my office on firstname.lastname@example.org (not entirely GDPR compliant but I’ll leave that up to you). The phones are rather busy at the moment – thanks for your patience.
This post should not be taken as medical advice and is for informational purposes only.