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UHL nephrologist marks World Kidney Day with COVID-19 vaccine appeal

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Dr Liam Casserly, Lead Nephrologist, Department of Renal Medicine, University Hospital Limerick.

A LEADING clinician in the Department of Renal Medicine at University Hospital Limerick is marking World Kidney Day this Thursday, March 11th, with an appeal for everyone to continue to play their part in suppressing COVID-19 by getting the vaccine as soon as it is available to them.

Dr Liam Casserly, Lead Nephrologist in the Department, was speaking on behalf of the chronic kidney disease patients he has treated at the hospital for the past 25 years, who are part of the population that are most vulnerable to the effects of the highly infectious coronavirus.

He was speaking within days of the Government’s announcement that kidney patients, including dialysis and transplant patients, as well as other immunosuppressed patients and those with advanced kidney disease, have been moved up to Phase 4 in the adult immunisation schedule for COVID-19

“This is great news for our patients,” said Dr Casserly, who is delighted with the response from dialysis patients so far to calls for vaccination. There has been no hesitation in opting for the inoculation, Dr Casserly reported.

UL Hospitals Group vaccination teams on Tuesday began administering the first doses of the vaccine to kidney patients in the clinical setting of Group’s satellite haemodialysis clinic, at the Fresenius Medical Care centre on Limerick’s Dock Road.

For kidney patients who have been cocooning for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government’s reprioritisation announcement has been a particularly welcome breakthrough on the first anniversary of the detection of the first cases of the coronavirus in the Mid-West.

Dr Casserly paid tribute to the efforts of society as a whole in the Mid-West, and the sacrifices they have made to help break the transmission of the disease, in particular during the pandemic’s most challenging surge phases.

He added that opting to receive the vaccine is another vital contribution towards protecting ourselves and those we love from COVID-19, especially the most vulnerable people in the community such as his patients at University Hospital Limerick.

“We’re just coming through the third surge of the COVID-19 pandemic, and once again, the numbers have fallen, thanks to people’s adherence to public health guidelines. Nevertheless, it’s been very clear that the third surge has had a particularly severe impact on kidney patients in Limerick and nationally,” Dr Casserly added.

“It’s great news that kidney patients have been moved up in the immunisation schedule, and I’m delighted to report that so far there has been a unanimously positive response by patients to the calls for vaccination. I think it now falls on all of us in the time ahead to once again play our part in the pandemic, by getting the vaccine when it becomes available,” he said.

Watch the Hospitals Group Tweet of Dr Casserly's video message for World Kidney Day

Dr Casserly stated: “Keeping that in mind today, and being prepared to receive the vaccine when it becomes available, would be the best World Kidney Day gift you could give to any of the vulnerable patients in our department.”

Nationally, kidney disease affects 10% of the population, and is caused by diabetes, high blood pressure, nephritis or inherited disease. It impairs the functions of the kidneys, including their ability to cleanse 180-litres of blood in the average human body every day, control blood pressure, produce hormones to regulate haemoglobin levels and Vitamin D, and stimulate production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells.

The most effective treatment for chronic kidney disease is transplantation, but due to the average wait times of 2-4 years, the best option is dialysis, whether haemodialysis (by which the patient’s blood is filtered and cleansed via external machine) or peritoneal dialysis (a process involving the extraction of excess water and waste products from the blood internally, via the peritoneal membrane).

While treatments in-centre at UHL and its Fresenius satellite clinic are running at approximately 17,500 per annum, the logistical demands are formidable, requiring at least three weekly visits lasting up to four hours per visit. More patients are experiencing the benefits of dialysis treatment at home.

During the pandemic, the benefits of home-based dialysis have become clearer than ever, and Dr Casserly and his colleagues continue to encourage it.

“The pandemic has been challenging, but patients undertaking their treatment at home have been better able to protect themselves from the risks of COVID-19. It’s just one advantage of home-based dialysis. It’s certainly not a primary reason to opt for it, but it’s a particularly clear benefit, and, as I’ve said previously, it brings fresh meaning to the phrase, ‘No place like home’,” Dr Casserly concluded.