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Feature: Government ‘failing to prioritise’ people with learning disabilities

Charities are calling for people with learning disabilities to be given priority access to the Covid-19 vaccine. 

Health bosses say the vaccine is now being offered to residents at every eligible care home with older residents across England.

Nurses, GPs and other NHS staff have offered the life-saving jab to people living at more than 10,000 care homes with older residents.

However, learning disability charity Mencap, said that, although people with learning disabilities are six times more likely to die from Covid-19, they are not on the vaccine priority list.

Mencap chief executive Edel Harris said: ‘We’ve seen the tragic consequences of not throwing a protective ring around people who rely on social care during the first lockdown.

‘The Prime Minister must remember that it isn’t just people in care homes who need priority access, around half of the social care budget goes to working-aged disabled adults who mostly live in their own homes or supported living settings.

‘People with a learning disability have died from Covid at over six times the rate of the general population, yet not all people with a learning disability who receive care are currently on the vaccine priority list.

‘The government must urgently give all people with a learning disability priority access to the vaccine, it will save lives.’

The Joint Committee of Vaccinations and Immunisations (JCVI), who set the priority groups for vaccination, made older adult care home residents and their staff high priority groups due to being at particular risk from Covid-19 because of their age and frailty.

However, Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) chief executive Kathryn Smith warned that the impact of Covid-19 can be just as devastating in other care settings.

‘This is really encouraging news and I’m sure it will be a huge relief to many people living in care homes and their relatives.

‘We’ve said from the start of the pandemic that all care settings are likely to be supporting people who are the most vulnerable to the effects of Covid-19.

‘The sooner that all care home residents and staff can get a vaccine the better so that Covid-19 cases can start dropping as soon as possible.

‘However, we are still calling for vaccinations in all care settings, including home care, where the consequences of infection can be just as devastating as in care homes.’

Vaccinations are now being administered at more than 250 hospitals, over 1,000 GP-led services, 117 High Street pharmacies and 47 large-scale vaccination centres across the country with more coming online over the coming days and weeks.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: ‘Today marks a crucial milestone in our ongoing race to vaccinate the most vulnerable against this deadly disease.

‘We said we would prioritise and protect care home residents, and that is exactly what we have done.

‘There will be difficult moments to come, and the number of cases and people in hospital remains dangerously high.

‘But vaccines are our route out of the pandemic, and having protected 8.9m people with a first dose so far, our rollout programme will only accelerate from here on.’

A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson said the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) are the independent experts who advise the government on which vaccine/s the United Kingdom should use and provide advice on prioritisation at a population level.

The Committee has advised that the first priorities for any Covid-19 vaccination programme should be the prevention of COVID-19 mortality, morbidity and protection of health and social care staff and systems.

This includes prioritising those at increased risk of hospitalisation and at increased risk of exposure, and to maintain resilience in essential public services.

The JCVI has looked at extensive data on mortality from Covid-19 in coming to their recommendation, which included the available data on those with learning difficulties

The DHSC spokesman said: ‘We know this is a uniquely challenging period for people across the country, and the NHS is working tirelessly to vaccinate people most at risk, as quickly as possible.

‘The government is closely following the advice from independent experts on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) on which groups of people to prioritise for Covid-19 vaccines.

‘The JCVI looked extensively at all the available data, including data on people with learning difficulties, and advised the most immediate priority should be to prevent deaths of clinically extremely vulnerable individuals and protect health and care staff on the frontline.’

Photo Credit – Pixabay

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