Advocacy groups for vulnerable people express concern over removal of masks

Need to increase access to antivirals as society opens up, says advocate

Advocacy groups for medically vulnerable people have expressed concerns over the end of mandatory mask wearing on public transport and in shops.

The Irish Cancer Society’s Director of Advocacy, Rachel Morrogh, said some cancer patients did not have an adequate antibody response to the vaccine. “Fearful of getting Covid and with no safety net in place for them, their world is becoming smaller as they isolate from friends and family once again,” she said.

Ms Morrogh urged people to continue social distancing and mask wearing in high-risk settings when they interact with vulnerable individuals.

She also said many cancer patients have experienced disruptions in accessing care. “As the world moves on we must ensure no one is left behind.”


The Irish Kidney Association (IKA) said removing the mask mandate "seems premature".

Nphet advised masks should remain mandatory in healthcare settings, but the IKA said this needed to be clarified. “Should home carers entering patient homes, or taxi drivers bringing patients to dialysis or chemotherapy, wear face masks? Should they wear respirator or surgical masks?”

Ireland urgently needed to procure more Covid anti-viral drugs and monoclonal antibodies for medically vulnerable people, according to Michael Rynne of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CCL) Ireland.

Immunocompromised people needed access to these treatments as vaccines are not as effective for them, he added. “People with blood cancer are particularly affected, some have low or no antibodies at all after the vaccine...the mask was the last mitigation to protect them.”

He said the HSE’s plan on antiviral treatments is “insufficient” compared to the situation in Britain. “These treatments were available in the UK from December. They bought five million doses, and they are being delivered to people in their homes.”

Mr Rynne’s wife has CLL and he said the vulnerable have continually been left behind. “We feel abandoned, isolated. We want access to these treatments so we can get back to normal life.”

Vicky McGrath, chief executive of Rare Diseases Ireland, said the HSE needed to ensure all vulnerable patients had access to new therapies. “There are people with ultra rare conditions, that clinicians may not be aware of. There is no list or database for these people.”

The Irish Platform for Patient Organisations, Science and Industry (IPPOSI) sent a letter to the HSE and the Minister for Health on Friday, asking for immunocompromised people to be given greater access to new treatments.

In a statement, the HSE said sotrovimab, which is given through a drip in the arm, is currently being prescribed to high-priority Covid positive patients in hospital. “Very few patients have required this treatment, with approximately 110 doses administered to date and we have no reports of clinicians being unable to access this treatment for their patients.”

A delivery of sotrovimab arrived in late January, another delivery is expected to arrive later this month, and all hospitals have access to the treatment, the HSE said.

“The HSE will communicate availability of oral Covid-19 antivirals in Ireland as soon as delivery dates are confirmed.”

As of Friday some 18,000 booster doses have been administered to people with weakened immune systems out of the some 76,000 eligible people, the HSE said. Those who are immunocompromised are due for their fourth booster dose three months following their third primary dose. The HSEsaid it is issuing appointment details to all those within this cohort by text message. It said the booster vaccine has proven to protect against serious illness from this disease.