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150,000 People With Learning Difficulties Will Now Be Prioritised For A Covid-19 Vaccine

4 min read

All people with learning difficulties face a “higher risk of death from Covid-19” and will now be moved up the priority list for a vaccine, government has said.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) are now advising the NHS to invite around 150,000 more people for a jab now.

Those with severe learning disabilities are already included in priority group six, and can currently begin to be immunised.

But adults with less severe conditions were not previously prioritised. The JCVI has now said all of those on the GP Learning Disability Register should be moved into cohort six, which Public Health England estimates will cover at least 150,000 more people.

Professor Wei Shen Lim, JCVI Covid-19 chairman, 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.”

BBC presenter Jo Whiley, whose sister has learning difficulties and was recently hospitalised with severe Covid-19, said she could not be more delighted at the news, calling it a "seismic day".

"I am so relieved, I'm so happy for all those people who've been living in fear," Wiley told the BBC. 

Wiley has been a vocal advocate for all people with learning difficulties to receive a vaccine after she herself received an invite for a jab before her sister, who lives in a care facility. 

"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."

Care minister Helen Whately also welcomed the change. “I have heard first-hand how tough this pandemic has been for people with learning disabilities and their families," she said. "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.”

This morning deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam also called on the remaining care home staff who have not had a vaccine yet to get their jab.

He told Sky News: "I agree with Professor (Chris) Whitty in that I think healthcare workers have always had a professional responsibility to take steps themselves to prevent them from being in a position where they could harm patients through infectious diseases they might have.

"That's been a very clear position on hepatitis B vaccine and performing invasive procedures, particularly surgery, for decades and decades.

"I think that's the professional standard that everybody ought to adhere to.”

He added: "If you're a consumer of healthcare, if you're a patient or a relative, would you prefer a healthcare worker to attend you or your relative if they have been vaccinated against Covid, or would you not really mind either way?"

Professor Van-Tam also said he was concerned about vaccine hesitancy within black and minority ethnic groups.

"I am concerned about this and I expect the NHS to publish data on uptake in due course,” he said.

"I know there is hesitancy in some of the black and minority ethnic communities and I know it's been an issue for decades that it is always more difficult to get high uptake of vaccines and other preventative healthcare services in areas of unfortunately low prosperity, high deprivation of the UK.

"This is not a new problem but it is one that greatly concerns me because we need very high uptake."

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