People with learning disabilities added to COVID-19 vaccination priority list

The UK Government accepts a recommendation from the vaccination committee to include around 150,000 people currently on the GP learning disability register within the top priority list.

25/02/21

People with learning disabilities added to COVID-19 vaccination priority list

The UK Government has confirmed that those registered on the GP learning disability register will now be considered a priority for the COVID-19 vaccine.

There are an estimated 1.2 million people with a learning disability in England, only around 250,000 are thought to be on the GP learning disability register.

Those on the register tend to be those with more affective conditions, which means that those with more mild learning disabilities may not be effected by the new change.

With some of those on the register having already been vaccinated as part of the first phase of vaccinations, the announcement will mean around 150,000 people with learning disabilities will now receive a jab sooner.

Previously, only those with a "severe or profound" learning disability in England and Wales were included in priority group six for the coronavirus vaccine, along with unpaid carers for those with disabilities or the elderly.

Adults with Down's Syndrome were included in priority group 4 as part of the UK's target to vaccinate 15 million people by mid-February.

The announcement comes following research from the OpenSAFELY group found that people registered with their GP as having a learning disability were more at risk of being seriously ill and dying from COVID-19, whilst a Public Health England report from November found that those with a learning disability were up to six times more likely to die from the virus.

Now the Health Secretary Matt Hancock has approved a recommendation from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to include those on the GP learning disabilities register into priority group 6.

Professor Anthony Harnden, Deputy Chairman of the JCVI, said all those with severe learning disabilities were "very disadvantaged" and should be reached out to – but he said including people with mild learning disabilities was not recommended because they were at no greater risk than someone else of the same age.

The change comes amid a public campaign from the BBC Radio DJ Jo Wiley to include a wider range of learning disabilities within the clinically vulnerable definition that the Government is using to vaccinate those most at risk from COVID-19.

BBC Radio 2 presenter Wiley has started her campaign after receiving a vaccination before her sister, Frances, who lives in a residential care home with the rare Cri du Chat genetic syndrome.

Shortly after her own vaccination, Wiley then received news that Frances had contracted COVID-19 following outbreak of the virus in her care home.

Frances, 53, then required hospital treatment, but is now recovering after being discharged this week.

Speaking on the news of the announcement, Wiley expressed her relief that more people with learning disabilities would now be protected whilst accepting that it was "very difficult" to categorise people according to their disability.

"This is a great day, I am so relieved. I'm so happy for all those people who have been living in fear," said Wiley.

In a statement, the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) welcomed the announcement following it’s own campaign to prioritise more people with learning disabilities within the vaccination programme.

“Several months ago, BASW called for people with moderate learning disabilities to be given vaccine priority, due to the significant risk of people with learning disabilities dying disproportionately at a younger age than the general population between March and July 2020.

“Individuals with severe and profound learning disabilities were already on the priority vaccine list, but BASW added its voice to the call for this to be extended to all those with learning disabilities. We took the position that the Government needed to recognise a range of different needs – not just clinical ones.”

The charity Mencap said the announcement was "fantastic news" for people with a learning disability.

"It's now crucially important that everyone with a learning disability checks that they are on the register and asks to go on it if they are not," said the charity's Director of Communication Jackie O'Sullivan.

"Being on the register has many benefits and entitles people to annual health checks and prioritisation for future vaccinations, as well as allowing them to get the [COVID-19] vaccine and be confident they are protected."

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