Free Leaflet: Covid-19 Vaccine Update by Dr Charles Shepherd

January 11, 2021

Dr Charles Shepherd, Hon. Medical Adviser, ME Association


Monday 4th January marked the start of the UK mass vaccination programme against COVID-19. The current aim is to vaccinate around 2 million people each week.

To start with, over the next three months, priority is being given to key workers and people who are far more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 due to either age (ie being over 70) or having an underlying health condition.

Back in December the vaccination of health workers started with the use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and this will still be in use.

However, the government has ordered 100 million doses of the newly approved Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine.

This is going to be the vaccine of choice from now on for almost everyone in the UK, including people with ME/CFS, for the following reasons:

  • Developed and tested on volunteers here in the UK
  • On current evidence it provides a high degree of protection (up to 90% after the second dose) and has a very good safety profile
  • Much cheaper to manufacture than the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine
  • Much easier to transport, store and deliver than the Pfizer vaccine – as it can be stored in a GP surgery fridge. The Pfizer vaccine has to be stored in a freezer at minus 70 degrees centigrade

This free leaflet will be updated as the situation continues to develop. In it we discuss:

  • Covid-19 vaccination priority and ME/CFS
  • The safety of the Covid vaccines in general
  • The safety of the Covid vaccines for people with ME/CFS
  • Vaccine administration practicalities
  • Making a decision whether to have the vaccine

If you prefer you can download the leaflet here without registering via the website shop.


Covid-19 Vaccine Priority & ME/CFS

At the top of the JCVI list are people who are living and working in care homes, health workers, the very elderly (ie those over 80 years of age) and people who are extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 – because they have
a high risk of developing serious or life-threatening complications if they catch COVID-19. Which is fair enough…

While anecdotal evidence indicates that people with ME/CFS are very likely to suffer an exacerbation or relapse of their ME/CFS symptoms if they catch COVID-19, there is no evidence to indicate that they are at significantly increased risk of developing serious or life-threatening complications.

So it is unlikely that ME/CFS will move up to very high priority status. The priority list is followed by a group of people (in group 6) who have what are termed by the JCVI as ‘underlying health conditions’ that make them vulnerable in relation to COVID-19.

This list includes people with chronic neurological conditions. ME/CFS should be included in the ‘underlying health conditions’ list – as it is classified as a neurological disease by both the WHO (in ICD10, G93:3) and NHS England.

In addition, COVID-19 will almost certainly exacerbate pre-existing ME/CFS symptoms and/or cause a relapse of ME/CFS. The ME Association has therefore written to the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, on January 3rd to ask him to confirm that people with ME/CFS are in group 6
of the JCVI list.

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