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‘More disabled people should be prioritised for vaccine’

A nurse preparing a vaccine
A nurse preparing a vaccine Image credit: theguardian.com

Leading charities are urging the government to give disabled people priority for the COVID-19 vaccination after a recent study showed they formed 60% of deaths from the virus in 2020.

James Taylor, executive director of strategy for Scope told Financial Times: “What they show is that there is an urgent need for the government to prioritise disabled people now.”

Despite the government announcing this week 820,000 more people will take priority for the jab, including those with severe learning disabilities the number did not take into account individuals with mild or moderate learning disabilities.

Jackie O’Sullivan, director of communications, advocacy and activism at Mencap said: We’d like everyone to be prioritised in at least category six. The data (on deaths) doesn’t make a distinction in the severity of your learning disability so I don’t see why the vaccination programme should.”

Data from the Office for National Statistics [ONS] revealed 30,296 out of the 50,888 coronavirus deaths last year were disabled patients.

Women with learning disabilities are three times more likely to die than non-disabled women, but with COVID-19 they are four times more likely to succumb to the virus, for men the statistic raises from 2.8 times to 3.5 times because of the pandemic.

People with a physical or mental disability are at higher risk dying from the virus if they are living in a care home.

Taylor said people with disabilities have endured “a year of agony” being isolated, deteriorating health and having medical appointments cancelled “so there is a whole multitude of things that are happening which are causing these figures to be higher”.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said he had put a “protective ring” around disabled people throughout the pandemic, but some disagree.

Valerie Michie, chief executive of Choice Care which gives support to 600 people in supported living or small community residential homes told FT: “The headlines in the news have been saying ‘all people in care homes have been vaccinated, we have met the target’ but in fact it’s all people in elderly care homes.

“We have hugely upset families and parents who have had their vaccinations and they’re saying to us ‘this is not right, my son or daughter is way more vulnerable than me.”

Harry Roche, 32, has a learning disability and is an ambassador for Mencap, he’s still waiting to have the vaccine.

Roche said: “It’s not fair. People with a learning disability need to be prioritised for the vaccine because we are at high risk and the UK government doesn’t seem to think that.”

Charles Bloch, who has vision loss, said: “I don’t feel disabled people have been considered or consulted in any of the [official] decisions.”

There is some good news though, last week senior NHS executives sent a letter to the government stating there must be a vaccination programme for care home residents with mental health conditions or learning disabilities.

The letter also suggested GPs should provide discretion to which patients can be prioritised for the vaccine.

The UK’s health department said: “[Covid] has disproportionately impacted certain communities and groups of people, including individuals who have health conditions associated with known Covid risks, those in care home settings and disabled people.

“We continue to adopt all necessary measures to protect these people through our social care policies, vaccination programme and the shielding arrangements in place for the clinically extremely vulnerable.”

Richard Kramer, chief executive of Sense, hopes disabled people will be better protected after being significantly affected by the impacts of COVID-19.

He said: “Disabled people have fallen through the cracks in government and we need to tackle the inequalities they faced pre-Covid if we want to improve their lives post-Covid.”

A percentage of disabled people have revealed a “do not resuscitate” order has been added to their records without their consent.