Government urged to ensure people with a learning disability have access to COVID-19 vaccine in priority group six

Learning disability charity Mencap is calling on the UK Government to include everyone with a learning disability in priority group six to ensure prompt access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

Today (11 January) health secretary Matt Hancock revealed how the COVID-19 vaccination will be rolled out across the United Kingdom – the biggest vaccination roll out in British history.

VACCINE ROLL OUT

As the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines begin distribution across the UK, Matt Hancock has pledged to offer all adults in the UK a COVID-19 vaccine by autumn.

At present, figures show that 15.8 million people aged 65 or over, and younger people with underlying health conditions who had been asked to shield, are expected to get the vaccination first.

Even so, charities are calling on clarification of who is deemed to be ‘at the front of the queue’ for the vaccine.

AT RISK

“People with a learning disability deserve to be given a chance to survive this pandemic,” emphasises Dan Scorer, head of policy at Mencap. “Today (11 January) Matt Hancock simply must include everyone with a learning disability in priority group six, if they do not already fall into a higher category.”

Priority group six focuses on people aged 16 to 65 years in at an at-risk group. Risk factors according to the government include heart problems, dementia, cancer, diabetes, organ transplant recipients, to people with neurological or muscle wasting conditions.

Learning disability does not, at present, feature on the at risk list.

EXCLUDED

Dan continues: “The current guidance leaves individual doctors, already under considerable strain, to make a judgement about the severity of someone’s learning disability before allowing them to receive a jab.

“People with a learning disability have been failed by this sort of subjective decision-making in the past – we saw them being issued Do Not Resuscitate Notices last year and have witnessed inequalities in their access to healthcare throughout this pandemic.

“Many people with a learning disability will be excluded from having this potentially life-saving vaccine, despite them dying at more than six times the rate of the rest of the population.

“We are talking about people who are so often excluded in different areas of life, facing the challenges of lockdown and cuts to their support. We cannot sit back and watch them be left off the vaccine priority list.”

THE DOSE

As of 11 January, there are currently one million doses of the Oxford vaccine ready to use and five million doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

This is estimated to increase to three million and 15 million doses respectively within the following weeks.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation ( JCVI) has recommended that both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are safe and do provide high levels of protection against coronavirus.

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