An immunocompromised mother whose medical team has refused to give her a second Covid-19 vaccine dose after she experienced a severe reaction to the first has said there is no other option available to her unless health experts give the go-ahead to mix vaccines.
Dolores Grace said she is "stuck between a rock and a hard place" after suffering a severe headache and high blood pressure which left her hospitalised when she received the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine last March.
The 46-year-old from Athboy, Co Meath has written to Health Minister Simon Donnelly and Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohon "out of sheer desperation" to try and get fully vaccinated.
"I have several medical conditions including Sjogrens and Rheumatoid Arthritis and I've had a blood clot in the past that caused heart failure," she said.
"One of the drugs I'm on is Rituximub which works on the same 'B' cells as AstraZeneca. Despite all of this, I keep active and try to live a pretty normal life.
"I've been cocooning for a long time, working from home and not even shopping as I've been told that I'm medically vulnerable.
"My consultant rheumatologist put me forward for the vaccine in the early stages and my Rituximub treatment was delayed to facilitate this."
Ms Grace said she felt she had "no choice" but to take the AstraZeneca vaccine, as she feared refusing it would mean being put to the back of the vaccine queue.
"I raised my concerns about my previous clot and taking the AstraZeneca but the thinking was that if I refused it, it could delay my infusions which I badly needed at that time.
"My team were trying to get me the Pfizer at that stage but it wasn't possible so I felt I had no choice but to take the AstraZeneca in case I would be put at the back of the queue if I didn't. I couldn't believe the situation I was in.
"After the first jab, I was very sick with flu-like symptoms which I was expecting but I wasn't expecting the horrendous headache I got on day three. My blood pressure was through the roof and I ended up in hospital.
"I still have a lingering headache 12 weeks on and I'm just generally unwell. My GP advises against taking the second dose, which is due this week.
'Stuck in the middle'
Ms Grace continued: "However, he says he is not covered to give me a different vaccine and as they are not allowed to mix vaccines at the minute. My consultant told me on Monday that they are looking for a solution.
"Right now I'm completely stuck in the middle. I cannot take the next vaccine jab but I need a vaccine of some sort. I cannot stay in my house again for months on end in the hope of herd immunity kicking in.
"I've phoned the HSE helpline and while they are lovely, they just directed me back to my GP and consultant. There seems to be no doctor in the middle taking responsibility for the actual vaccine part. I understand the vaccine programme is huge but every system needs to be able to stop and look at the cases that fall outside of the normal parameters like me.
"I'm pretty sure that I'm not alone in this either."
The HSE has said it cannot comment on individual cases but there are in-depth guidelines and advice on their website for all care professionals.
The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) is due to update its advice on mixing vaccines in the next two weeks, as it awaits further evidence to support the practice.