A Haematologist, Dr Patrick Obinna, says there is need for Nigerians with Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) to be given priority access to COVID-19 vaccination.
Obinna, who spoke with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja ahead of World Sickle Cell Day marked annually on June 19, said that people with SCD were vulnerable to severe COVID-19.
NAN reports that World Sickle Cell Day is a United Nation’s recognised day to raise awareness of sickle cell at a national and international level.
According to the World Health Organisation, sickle-cell disease is characterised by a modification in the shape of the red blood cell from a smooth, donut-shape into a crescent or half moon shape.
The misshapen cells lack plasticity and can block small blood vessels, impairing blood flow. This condition leads to shortened red blood cell survival, and subsequent anaemia, often called sickle-cell anaemia.
Poor blood oxygen levels and blood vessel blockages in people with sickle-cell disease can lead to chronic acute pain syndromes, severe bacterial infections, and necrosis (tissue death).
SCD is associated with episodes of severe pain called sickle cell painful crises.
Obinna said that the impact of COVID-19 on the routine management of persons with SCD in the country had been substantial and complex.
“News is evolving rapidly about COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccines.
“Early results from the COVID-19 vaccine trials are very promising, although the true benefits and risks will not be known until a larger number of people receive the vaccine.
“ I am surprised that SCD patients were not listed as one of the populations vulnerable to severe COVID-19, to be vaccinated immediately in the country.
“Sickle cell disease raises the risk for serious problems with COVID-19, especially when compared to the same age in the general population,” he said.
Obinna stated that most SCD patients were not eligible for COVID-19 vaccine in Nigeria, noting that since many of them were younger than the country’s age-based vaccine rollout plan, it was not reaching them.
According to him, Nigerians with health conditions including kidney failure, sickle cell anaemia or type 2 diabetes should be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in the country and should be contacted for the vaccine.
He recommended that, based on current information across the globe, people with sickle cell disease should receive COVID-19 vaccination immediately.
“I have patients that have been held up in their homes since the beginning of this pandemic.
“They are afraid to go out because they know that if they were to get COVID-19, their chances of being hospitalised, getting really sick or dying is higher than the average population.
“Sickle cell disease is a genetic blood disorder that causes red blood cells to be misshaped. The red blood cells are not able to carry oxygen well, which affects the whole body.
“The benefits of vaccination outweighs the risks for people with SCD. Vaccination is worthwhile compared to the risks of having COVID-19 disease in people with SCD,” he advised.
He added that people with SDC should consult with their doctor or health care providers on whether their personal medical condition causes an exception to this general recommendation.
He stressed that the fact that SCD affects the immune system should not cause a safety problem for COVID-19 vaccines.
Obinna urged people with SDC who have received their jabs not to relax their precautionary measures.
“One might still get infected in the few weeks following vaccination. You could still give infection to those around you.
“Continue to wear a mask covering your nose and mouth. Wash your hands often. Maintain physical distance. Avoid crowds and avoid people who are ill,” the haematologist advised.