A charity that works with adults with learning disabilities in Bedford welcomed the Government’s vaccine u-turn yesterday (Wednesday).
Following a campaign by DJ Jo Whiley, the government has announced that vaccinations for adults with learning disabilities would be prioritised.
“At Living It Up we support hundreds of adults with learning disabilities across all our services and the COVID-19 pandemic was been so hard for the majority of those people,” said Claire Crawford Smith, who runs Living It Up’s performing arts centre in Bedford.
“People who we support have gone through so much in the past year. Services have been closed, they have not been able to see their friends or their family and they have been really scared about catching the virus.
“Some people have really lost their independence and have struggled with their mental health.”
A recent report from Public Health England found people with a learning disability were up to six times more likely to die from Covid-19 (coronavirus) and, in the 18-34 age group, their risk was 30 times higher than their counterparts without a learning disability.
Claire told the Bedford Independent that hopes among their service users had been high when the initial roll out of the vaccine was announced.
“Everyone at the Performing Arts Centre was really hoping that they would be high up on the priority list,” she said.
“This would have meant that people could stop living in fear and we felt that maybe there was a light at the end of the tunnel and things could start to become a bit more normal again.
“We were devastated when we found out that people with learning disabilities wouldn’t be a priority group unless they were classed as clinically extremely vulnerable.”
The situation was brought into the spotlight by Radio 2 DJ, Jo Whiley, after she was offered a vaccine ahead of her sister who has a learning disability and diabetes.
Ms Whiley’s sister, Frances, contracted Covid at her residential home and the family were terrified she would not recover.
Following a campaign by Ms Whiley, the joint committee on vaccination yesterday advised the government that everyone on the GP learning disability register should be prioritised for a Covid vaccine.
Asked how they felt about the news, one learner at Living It Up’s Performing Arts Centre said he feels too anxious to go out till he has had his vaccine.
Another, G, said he has been really upset by everything as he hadn’t seen his family for months.
“I think it’s really good now that everyone with learning disabilities can have the jab as people can go back to their day centres,” he said.
Fizz Heseltine, manager of Living It Up’s Gig Buddy project, said that conversations at their weekly Zoom hangout had regularly turned to vaccines.
“The participants found it unfair that their gig buddies and staff were in a higher priority group to receive vaccines before them,” she said.
“Most of our participants have stated that they feel worried about not having received the vaccine and people are concerned about going out when restrictions are eased if they haven’t had the vaccine by then.”
One participant, A, said “I think it’s a good idea for people with a learning disability to get that respect, but I’m not sure if that also means me and this makes me anxious”.
Living It Up’s service users will join hundreds of thousands of other people who had been asked to shield who are now being invited for a Covid jab.
Letters are now landing on the doorsteps of around 445,000 people aged 64 who have not yet been vaccinated.
Those who receive the letters can book online or, if they cannot do that, call 119 free of charge, anytime between 7am and 11pm seven days a week.
People can pick a slot at 100 large scale vaccination centres or almost 200 pharmacy services.
The latest priority groups have been invited to come forward after everyone in a care home, health and care workers, and people aged 70 and over, were offered their jab.
Last week the NHS began vaccinating people aged 65-69 years old through the national booking service.
GPs are currently inviting people who are defined as clinically vulnerable – living with an underlying health condition like chronic kidney or heart disease – to be vaccinated, and people in this group will be contacted by their GP to get their jab.
The country’s top doctor today urged anyone in the top priority groups who has not yet been vaccinated that “it is not too late” to come forward for a jab.
Professor Stephen Powis, NHS medical director, said: “The NHS vaccination programme is the biggest in health service’s history and continues to go from strength to strength.
“Hard working NHS staff have already protected more than 15 million of the most vulnerable people against Covid in a matter of weeks.
“However, if you have already been offered a jab, especially if you’re aged 70 or over, but have not taken it up it is not too late. Please come forward so the NHS can protect you against coronavirus immediately.”