Paul O'Donoghue
Paul O'Donoghue

15.16 22 Feb 2021


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Psychiatrists have said Ireland must prioritise people with severe mental issues for the COVID vaccine.

It comes after a study in the Lancet journal found those with illnesses like schizophrenia are twice as likely to die from the virus.

It found their risk of dying from the virus is similar to people who have heart problems, and is in the highest risk group.

“Severe” mental illnesses examined included patients psychotic disorders, bipolar disorder, or severe depression.

Dr Eric Kelleher from the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland says Ireland must move these people up the vaccine queue.

He said: “Those with schizophrenia spectrum disorders were at increased rates of mortality. The rate is between two and three times higher (than normal).

“The reasons around that are those with schizophrenia are at higher risk of comorbidities. Those include cardiovascular, respiratory disease, but also things like diabetes and obesity.

“People with schizophrenia may be socially deprived, they may be under privileged, living in poor housing or poor social circumstances.

“They may have cognitive issues, dementia or delusional beliefs which may make it harder for them to maintain social distancing and comply with guidelines. They are already an at risk group.”

'There is a concern'

The Lancet study found as well as conditions such as diabetes or obesity, people with severe mental health issues were also more likely to have an immune system dysfunction.

It found just four of 20 European nations studied put people with severe mental issues in high priority vaccine groups. These were the UK, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands.

“Evidence is new, emerging and experts do not think countries are necessarily being neglectful. But there is a concern about this group because they are often neglected in policy making,” the Lancet study said.

The COVID-19 vaccine priority list is being reviewed, and it is expected that people with underlying health conditions such as cancer and respiratory issues will be given higher priority.

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC), which advises the chief medical officer on vaccines, is carrying out the review.

Dr Kelleher said people with severe mental illness should also be moved up the list.

He said: “I have no doubt NIAC will review the evidence around this, but certainly (they should be) alongside those with chronic medical conditions.

“I would hope individuals with severe mental illness would be included there, as is the similar policy in the UK.”

A decision on the updated vaccine list is expected to be made on Tuesday.

Main image: File photo. Picture by: Boris Grdanoski/AP/Press Association Images

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