LONDON (Reuters) - Most European countries are ignoring mentally ill patients in their COVID-19 vaccine strategies despite such patients being highly vulnerable to contracting and dying from the disease, the leading mental health organisations warned on Wednesday.
Out of 20 European countries surveyed for a study, only the Netherlands, Britain, Germany and Denmark were found to recognise severe mental illness as a high-risk medical condition and to have made specific provisions for vaccinating patients.
"These patients are completely disregarded in most vaccination plans, and this needs to change," said Livia De Picker, a professor at the University Psychiatric Hospital Campus Duffel in Belgium who co-led the research.
"Recent work shows that if you have a psychiatric disorder your risk of COVID infection rises by 65%, and severely mentally ill patients are between 1.5 and 2 times more likely to die."
The findings were published in the Lancet Psychiatry journal late on Wednesday.
Researchers who conducted the survey, together with Europe's main clinical and patient mental health organisations, called on the European Union to set region-wide standards for ensuring vulnerable mental health patients are prioritised for vaccines.
"Countries often look to what's happening elsewhere when setting vaccine priorities, and given how few countries prioritise mental health this risks perpetuating the neglect of mental health issues," said Marion Leboyer, a co-author of the study and a professor at University of Paris Est Créteil.
"This is a huge problem in Europe, and will continue unless action is taken."
(Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Nick Macfie)