Adults with learning disabilities bumped up UK Covid vaccine list

Adults with learning disabilities are bumped UP the Covid vaccine priority list and should be immunised before the under-65s, jab bosses say

  • The JCVI today said any adult with a registered learning disability should get jab
  • Statistics have found disabled people face higher risk of death if they get Covid
  • People with Down’s syndrome already high priority, but others now to be added
  • All on the GP Learning Disability Register will be eligible, regardless of severity

Adults with learning disabilities will all be offered Covid vaccines as part of the top six priority groups, Britain’s health chiefs said today.

The JCVI, which decides on who gets the life-saving jabs first, said people with learning disabilities of any kind should be bumped up the pecking order.

They will be added into priority group six, which includes all adults with a long-term health condition that puts them at higher risk of severe illness. 

Vaccinations have already begun in this group and they take higher priority than people aged between 50 and 64, who make up groups seven, eight and nine.

Anyone who is on the GP Learning Disability Register will be eligible for a vaccine earlier than planned, the JCVI said, regardless of how severe their disability is. 

This register is open to anyone with a diagnosed learning disability. These include autism and Asperger’s, William’s syndrome, global developmental delay and cerebral palsy.

People with Down’s syndrome were already in the clinically extremely vulnerable group so part of the population targeted with vaccines by February 15.

Public Health England said at least 150,000 people would now get a vaccine sooner than expected in order to ‘prevent as many deaths as possible’.

The Office for National Statistics revealed in a report this month that people with learning disabilities had an almost four times higher chance of dying if they developed Covid-19, compared to people without the difficulties.

Britain has one of the most accelerated Covid vaccination programmes in the world and has already immunised 17.9million people with at least one dose of a vaccine. 

 All adults on the GP Learning Disability Register will be added into priority group six if they are not included in one of the higher priority sections of the list

Adults with any kind of learning disability will now be invited to have a coronavirus vaccine as one of the main priority groups in the UK’s programme, as long as they are registered on the GP Learning Disability Register (stock image)

Britain has one of the most accelerated Covid vaccination programmes in the world and has already immunised 17.9million people with at least one dose of a vaccine.

Professor Wei Shen Lim, Covid chief at the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said: ‘The JCVI’s advice on Covid-19 vaccine prioritisation was developed with the aim of preventing as many deaths as possible. 

‘People who are severely affected by learning disabilities are at higher risk of death from Covid-19.

‘As the severity of any disability may not be well recorded in GP systems, JCVI supports the NHS operational plan for anyone on the GP Learning Disability Register to be invited now for vaccination as part of priority group six, and to reach out in the community to identify others also severely affected by a learning disability but who may not yet be registered.’

Until now, many people with learning disabilities other than Down’s syndrome had not been included on the vaccination priority list.

They would have been incorporated in the ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ shielding group if they had other physical health problems, regardless of their learning disability, but may not have got priority access if they were otherwise healthy.

ONS data in a report this month revealed that people with learning disabilities are more likely to die of Covid-19 than people without the disabilities.

It found that around six per cent of people who died of Covid-19 up to November 2020 – 2,955 people out of a total 50,888 in England.

But they only made up 1.2 per cent of people in the study, meaning they were disproportionately more likely to die.

Living in care homes or having other health conditions made people more likely to die of coronavirus, the statisticians found. 

The report said: ‘Looking at people with a medically diagnosed learning disability, the risk of death involving Covid-19 was 3.7 times greater for both men and women compared with people who did not have a learning disability.

‘After using statistical models to adjust for a range of factors, a raised risk of 1.7 times remained unexplained for both sexes.’

As part of the JCVI’s new drive to get jabs to learning disabled adults, the NHS will also offer the vaccines to adults living in residential or nursing care, as well as those in shared accommodation for people with disabilities.

And doctors will do community outreach to find learning disabled people who aren’t on the GP register but may still be at risk.

The Government’s care minister, Helen Whately, said: ‘I have heard first-hand how tough this pandemic has been for people with learning disabilities and their families. 

‘We are determined those more at risk from Covid should be vaccinated as soon as possible.

‘Following the JCVI’s updated advice and to make this process simpler and faster, we will be inviting everyone for vaccination who is on their GP’s learning disability register. 

‘This will mean those who are at a higher risk from the virus can get the protection they need.’

BBC radio DJ Jo Whiley, whose sister Frances has a learning disability and caught Covid-19 this month, said she was ‘delighted’ at the news.

Whiley, 55, highlighted the unfairness of the rollout when she said she had been offered a vaccine before her sister, despite not being in a high risk group.

She told the BBC today: ‘This is a great day – I am so relieved. I’m so happy for all those people who’ve been living in fear.

‘I’m very grateful to the Government for listening, because it’s a very complicated situation and it’s very difficult to categorise people according to their disability, it’s very, very tricky and that’s become apparent I think over the past few months.

‘And so this is clear, this encompasses everybody, and all those people who have been feeling very neglected, feeling like they don’t matter, that we don’t care, now know that we will be protecting them.

‘This is absolutely crucial and I could not be more delighted. This is a massive step forward.’ 

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