NASS have advice and guidance on COVID-19 for people living with axial SpA (AS)
Updated 20 July 2021
Since the start of the COVID19 pandemic NASS has carefully monitored the situation for people living with axial SpA (AS). This page includes the answers to your most frequently asked questions. If you have a question which we haven’t covered below please contact the NASS Helpline on 0208 741 1515 between 10:00 and 16:00 Monday to Friday. You can also email email@example.com.
Please download our detailed information on the COVID-19 vaccines which have been approved for use in the UK. This article was written by Dr Antoni Chan, Consultant Rheumatologist at the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust and published in the NASS members magazine, AS News.
More detailed information on the COVID-19 vaccination programme can be found in the Greenbook.
Vaccination will dramatically reduce your risk of contracting COVID-19, and of being seriously ill. Some people who are immunosuppressed, for instance because of the medication they take, may not get as much protection from the vaccine. Initial research seems to show people with a lowered immune system do have a good level of protection two weeks after the second dose, so make sure you have had both doses and take up any booster jabs offered in future.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI’s) interim advice, based on existing evidence, is to offer COVID-19 booster vaccines to the most vulnerable, starting from September 2021. The booster programme will aim to provide additional resilience against variants, and maximise protection in those who are the most vulnerable to serious disease from COVID-19 ahead of the winter months, when there is increased pressure on the NHS as non-COVID-19 emergency demand is at its highest.
A booster dose would be offered to groups in 2 stages and, if possible, delivered alongside the annual influenza vaccination. In the first stage, a booster would be offered to:
- adults aged 16 years and over who are immunosuppressed
- those living in residential care homes for older adults
- all adults aged 70 years or over
- adults aged 16 years and over who are considered clinically extremely vulnerable
- frontline health and social care workers
As soon as practicable after the first stage, the second stage would see a booster offered to:
- all adults aged 50 years and over
- adults aged 16 to 49 years who are in an influenza or COVID-19 at-risk group
- and adult household contacts of immunosuppressed individuals
Further details of any booster campaign, including when, for whom and which vaccine(s) would be used, will become available once the JCVI has considered further evidence and made its final recommendations.
On 19 July the JCVI announced that children at increased risk of serious COVID-19 disease will be offered the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. They also recommend children and young people aged 12 to 17 who live with an immunosuppressed person should be offered the vaccine. This is to indirectly protect their immunosuppressed household contacts, who are at higher risk of serious disease from COVID-19 and may not generate a full immune response to vaccination.
Social distancing rules are set to change. Do bear in mind that each of the four nations will have it’s own guidance.
Do consider the risks of close contact with others, particularly if you are clinically extremely vulnerable or not yet fully vaccinated, as the risk of catching or passing on COVID-19 is generally higher:
- in crowded spaces, where there are more people who might be infectious
- in enclosed indoor spaces where there is limited fresh air
- when COVID-19 disease levels are high in the general community
Extra precautions you might wish to consider if they are not mandatory in your area, include:
- meeting outside if possible
- make sure the space is well ventilated if you meet inside
- consider continuing to practice social distancing if that feels right for you and your friends
- asking friends and family to take a lateral flow test before visiting you
- wear face coverings in crowded areas, such as public transport
- go shopping at quieter times of day
When social distancing measures are ended in the workplace and people no longer have to work from home, employers will still have a legal responsibility to protect their employees and others from risks to their health and safety.
If you need support to work at home or in the workplace you can apply for Access to Work. Access to Work may provide support for the disability-related extra costs of working that are beyond standard reasonable adjustments an employer must provide. Access to Work will prioritise Access to Work applications from disabled people who are in the clinically extremely vulnerable Group.
If you have access to occupational health and employee assistance programmes in the workplace, these services can also provide you with a range of health support and advice for your physical and mental health needs.
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough) is available until 30 September. You may be eligible throughout this period, even when shielding is paused, providing your employer agrees. The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) is also available until 30 September.
You may be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) or Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) if you are sick or incapable of work, either due to coronavirus or other health reasons, subject to meeting the eligibility conditions.
If you have concerns about your health and safety at work then you can raise them with your workplace union, HSE or your local authority. Where employers are not managing the risk of COVID-19, HSE and local authorities will take action which can range from the provision of specific advice, issuing enforcement notices, stopping certain work practices until they are made safe and, where businesses fail to comply with enforcement notices, this could lead to prosecution.
Citizens Advice also has information about your rights at work and how to solve problems in the workplace. If you have concerns you can also get advice on your specific situation and your employment rights by visiting the Acas website or calling the Acas helpline on 0300 123 1100.
National guidance for the clinically extremely vulnerable
The links below take you to the guidance issued by each of the four nations.
Will I see my rheumatologist and physiotherapist as usual?
There may be delays to planned appointments as staff in rheumatology departments were redeployed during COVID19. To keep everyone safe, a lot of appointments are being carried out over the phone or online. NASS has produced a short video to help you make the most of remote appointments.
When will my NASS branch get started again?
A lot of our NASS branches have moved to offering online sessions so you can exercise safely from your home. These session are led by physiotherapists and still enable you to have a chat with others living with axial SpA (AS).
Branches are now working with their physiotherapists and venues towards a return to physical sessions. Each branch is different. While some of planning an imminent return, others may not return until later in the summer.
You can find your local NASS branch by putting your postcode in the search box on this page.
How can I safely exercise?
What research is being carried out into COVID19 and axial SpA (AS)?
In order to understand how COVID19 might impact on people living with rheumatological conditions like axial SpA (AS) a Global Rheumatology Alliance was established. Its aim is to increase our knowledge and understanding of how COVID19 both affects people with rheumatic conditions and if the medications people commonly take changes their risk. It is a database and clinicians from around the world are registering details of patients with rheumatic conditions who have contracted COVID19.
Research papers are already being produced based on the results. One paper based on over 600 patients from 40 different countries indicated only those taking more than 10mg of oral steroids were at greater risk of being hospitalised for COVID19. No other drugs increased the risk of hospitalisation and anti TNF appeared to decrease the risk.
Can I help by taking part in any research?
We’ve put together a list of studies taking part around the world and here in the UK looking at the impact of COVID19. You can find out more here.