Some 150,000 more people living with learning difficulties will be offered the covid vaccine in priority group six.
The decision comes following advice from the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
The committee says adults with severe and profound learning disabilities, and those with learning disabilities in long-stay nursing and residential care settings, should be offered the vaccine in priority group 6. People living with Down’s syndrome are included in group 4 but adults with less severe learning disabilities are not currently prioritised.
GP systems may not always capture the severity of someone’s disability, meaning some adults who are more severely affected by learning disabilities may not be invited for vaccination alongside people with other long-term health conditions.
Due to this the JCVI has asked the OpenSAFELY team to perform an updated analysis in those with various code sets for learning disabilities on GP systems and to include data from wave 2 of the pandemic.
The updated analysis confirmed a higher risk of mortality and morbidity in those on the GP register with learning disabilities – it’s expected that individuals with more severe learning disabilities are more likely to be on the list.
To ensure those most at risk of death or hospitalisation are prioritised for vaccination, JCVI supports a plan to invite anyone on the GP Learning Disability Register – as well as adults with other related conditions, including cerebral palsy – for vaccination as part of priority group 6.
East Kent Mencap welcomes decision
Local charity, East Kent Mencap, has welcomed the news that the NHS has made the decision that people with a learning disability are a major priority group for the vaccination programme.
CEO, Jason Gerlack, said: “We’ve had an extremely positive meeting with representatives from the NHS Trust in Kent, who had already recognised the importance of prioritising people with a learning disability and asked us for help in signposting them for vaccination.
“I’m proud that throughout the pandemic our staff have kept in touch with individuals and families to offer support and our programme of virtual activities has been very popular. However, Public Health England data has shown that people with a learning disability are dying of coronavirus up to six times the rate of the general population, so having the vaccine will give great peace of mind to people who’ve been isolated and unable to see their friends in person for a long time.”
If anyone with a learning disability is unsure about how to get a vaccine, East Kent Mencap urges them to ring their GP or speak to the charity directly so staff can support them.
In November a report from Public Health England showed that people living with learning disabilities were up to six times more likely to die from Covid-19 during the first wave of the pandemic.
The study, which looked at deaths between March 21 and June 5, found that 451 per 100,000 people registered with a learning disability had died with Covid-19 during that period.
However, researchers estimated the rate could be as high as 692 per 100,000 – 6.3 times higher than the general population.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, COVID-19 Chair for JCVI, said:”The JCVI’s advice on COVID-19 vaccine prioritisation was developed with the aim of preventing as many deaths as possible. People who are severely affected by learning disabilities are at higher risk of death from COVID-19.
“As the severity of any disability may not be well recorded in GP systems, JCVI supports the NHS operational plan for anyone on the GP Learning Disability Register to be invited now for vaccination as part of priority group 6, and to reach out in the community to identify others also severely affected by a learning disability but who may not yet be registered.”
Social enterprise Turning Point supported 987 people last year with their learning disability services.
Clare Taylor, National Director of Operations at Turning Point, said: “The hard facts show that people with a learning disability are three times more likely to die from Covid.
“The benchmark of a decent society is how we treat the most vulnerable. It’s unacceptable that people with learning disabilities have been left off the priority vaccine list for so long.
“We wholeheartedly support the advice announced by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).”
The JCVI is supporting an approach for the NHS to work with local authorities to identify adults in residential and nursing care, and those who require support, for example as part of assisted living in the community, and those in shared accommodation with multiple occupancy. JCVI will continue to consider the emerging evidence and will keep its advice under review.