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Charities welcome vaccine priority for people who have a learning disability

Learning disability charities shared their relief that all those on the GP learning disability register will be prioritised for the Covid-19 vaccine.

Mencap, a leading learning disability charity, called for urgent action after reports found that people with a learning disability were up to six times more likely to die from Covid-19 than the rest of the population.

 The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advised the Government to include all those on the GP register, expanding the sixth priority group by 150,000 people.

Mencap’s Communications Assistant and Ambassador Harry Roche, who has a learning disability, said: “With all the tireless campaigning Mencap have done to get people with learning disabilities the vaccine I think it is brilliant news.

“I want this to be a wakeup call to the Government and to everyone. We must be prioritised for receiving treatment now, because Covid is very serious and we’re still learning about this new disease and we can’t be left out.”

A key report in Mencap’s campaign was the Learning Disabilities Mortality Review (LeDeR), a world-first programme at the University of Bristol funded and ran by NHS England which aims at ‘making improvements to the lives of people with learning disabilities’.

Deaths of those with learning disabilities are reported to the LeDeR and they have been monitoring all Covid-19 related deaths since March 2020.

From 16 March 2020 to 19 February 2021 the LeDeR recorded that 35% of the total deaths of people with a learning disability were Covid-19 related.

Over the last ten weeks, it averaged that 52.4% of deaths of those with learning disabilities were Covid-19 related, comparative to an average of 35.7% for the general population.

A Mencap spokesperson said: The LeDeR highlights the appalling rate of disproportionate Covid-19 deaths of people with a learning disability compared to the general population in England and Wales.”

Roche said: “It made me feel discriminated, and like we can’t get the vaccine because they think people with a learning disability are not a big priority.

“I think maybe they looked at mild and moderate as not as serious because they think we’re healthy, we’re not too urgent. But really, that’s not the case. because we are at high risk as we are very vulnerable when receiving health care.”

The spokesperson explained those with a learning disability can be at higher risk to Covid-19, as they may have other health conditions and GP systems may not always capture the severity of someone’s disability.  

Also, those with learning disabilities sometimes are unable to speak up for their right to healthcare or are unsure how to ask for treatment or where to go.

The charity estimates that there are 1.2 million people in England with learning disabilities, but only around 25% (300,000) are on the GP learning disability register.

Mencap’s Executive Director of Communication, Advocacy & Activism, Jackie O’Sullivan said: “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.

“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.”

You can be any age and have any level of disability to join the learning disability register and to register you just need to contact your local GP doctor.

Many charities across London also campaigned for this change and they expressed their relief and enthusiasm at the U-turn announcement.

Director of Services and Assistant CEO at Learning Disability Network (LDN) London, Mandy Crowford said: “We are thrilled that people with learning disabilities are finally recognised as a priority for the vaccine.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has reinforced the lack of awareness at ministerial level in policy decisions. We hope that this policy change will provide a benchmark for the future and ensure people with learning disabilities are no longer invisible statistics to be ignored.”

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