FIRST HAND: One Mencap service user writes for Enable Magazine about his experience of getting the COVID-19 vaccine

Across the UK, thousands of people with a learning disability are slowly starting to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. Here, Kyle, a Mencap service user writes about his experience of getting the first dose of a historical vaccination.

I am so happy that those who have a learning disability and are on their GPs learning disability register can get access to the COVID-19 vaccine as part of priority group six. This is a huge milestone – but we must make sure that everyone with a learning disability is registered. 

If you are reading this and have a learning disability or know someone who does, please check if you are on your GPs learning disability register and ask to go on if you are not. Being on the register has many benefits including annual health checks and better access to care, as well as prioritisation for vaccinations including COVID-19. 

I have a learning disability and cerebral palsy and I was one of the lucky few with a learning disability to get the COVID-19 vaccine earlier this year, and I’d like to share a bit about my experience, especially for those who might be worried about getting the vaccine.    

On the ward

I got the vaccine in January because I volunteer at my local children’s hospital. Right now, I am a ‘COVID concierge’ making sure people sanitise their hands and are wearing masks inside. 

Before COVID, I used to go on the wards and if the parents needed a break, I would talk to the kids. I really enjoy being there and it makes the kids smile.

Due to the nature of my volunteering, I got a text to tell me I needed to make an appointment for the vaccine. I had mine done at a hospital, where you get given a time slot for your appointment. 

On the day

On the day of my vaccine, I arrived with my carer; we only waited for around two minutes.

A nurse came to get me and once we were in the room, she talked me through the process, asked me a few questions, including if I had COVID before, and told me some of the side effects I might get, like a headache or sore arm.

I hate needles so I looked away and couldn’t see it. It didn’t hurt at all and it was over in less than 30 seconds. After the vaccine I was told to wait 15-minutes to see if I had any side effects, which I didn’t, and afterwards they asked me to go to the desk and book my second vaccine which will be later this month.

Even though I have received my first vaccine, I know I’m not yet completely immune from COVID. I will continue to wear a mask, wash my hands, and practice social distancing with others. It’s important to carry on like you haven’t had the jab yet. 

First dose

I feel great to have had the first dose of the vaccine. I’m made up. This is one step closer to protection but please still follow the rules.

Luckily, I had a good overall experience getting the vaccine, but I know there are other people with a learning disability that are scared. 

My advice would be to ask the healthcare professional giving the vaccine to talk you through the process and if you can, have someone there with you as support.

My carer who supports me came with me which I found helpful so I would recommend taking someone like a carer or a family member. 

Top tips

Some more tips are:

  • Don’t look at the needle before
  • Talk through the vaccine to get your mind off it
  • If you are nervous with unfamiliar areas, have your vaccine at your GP practice, if possible

I used to be a regular visitor to my local Mencap day centre in Liverpool, but those regular visits stopped in March 2020 when the pandemic started. I can’t wait for the day that I will be able to go back, and getting the vaccine is the first positive step back to that kind of normality.

My last word of advice would be please don’t be scared, don’t be worried.

The vaccine was not as bad as I thought and if you get the option to have yours now, please get it. It will protect you from this horrible virus. 

For advice and information about learning disability and  Mencap  services in your area, contact  Mencap’s Learning Disability Helpline on 0808 808 1111 (10am-3pm, Monday-Friday) or email  helpline@mencap.org.uk