Covid vaccine clinic for people living with learning disabilities launches in Ramsgate and Medway

Gavin Harrington, accompanied by dad Kevin, received his jab yesterday

By Amy Rutland

A pilot scheme to make it easier for people with a learning disability to receive the COVID-19 vaccine was launched at the East Kent Mencap base in Ramsgate yesterday (March 11).

A visit to one of the large-scale vaccination centres may not be the most accessible way to receive a vaccine if you have a learning disability; the sheer size and amount of people could be scary or intimidating.

But thanks to a partnership between Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust (KCHFT), primary care networks and East Kent Mencap – the Thanet-based charity empowering people with a learning disability – there is now improved access to the COVID-19 vaccination.

East Kent Mencap has shared its resource centre at the Foresters Hall in Meeting Street to host a pop-up vaccine centre. This provides a familiar environment to people with a learning disability, putting them at ease and helping make the process run smoothly. On hand to deliver the vaccine will be KCHFT learning disability nurses who will allow extra time to work with each patient as they receive their vaccine.

Jason Gerlack, CEO of East Kent Mencap, said: “I have huge pride knowing we are working with the NHS to make access that bit easier for our members to get the vaccine. We are delighted to play our small part in the roll-out of the vaccine and hope to see more pop-up clinics happening soon.”

Despite being needle-phobic, Gavin Harrington, 40, received his vaccine at the pop-up clinic with the support of his father, Kevin in the familiarity of East Kent Mencap, where he attends the resource centre.

“I never would have thought Gavin would have been so calm to receive his vaccine. The fact that he was is because he was in a space he knew without any crowds,” said Kevin.

Kevin said: “In the past, he has really struggled with needles and I wasn’t sure if he could have the vaccine, but as soon as we were asked if he would like to attend the pop-up clinic, we knew we had to give it a try to help him get protected. I am so glad that something like this has been created to support Gavin and other people with a learning disability.”

Gavin is really looking forward to seeing his friends again in the future as he has missed them during lockdown and the pandemic. Having his vaccine takes him one step closer to seeing them again.

Ramsgate mayor Raushan Ara was at the clinic yesterday. She said: “I was delighted to attend the opening of the vaccination programme by East Kent Mencap, for its members, at Foresters Hall. This is such an achievement for EKM for making this possible.

“East Kent Mencap is one of my chosen charities and I would like to wish all the members good health. A massive thank you to the community nurses who came to do the vaccinations and to East Kent Mencap for making this possible. Well done, all.”

In Medway, KCHFT is working with a primary care network to provide a specific clinic for people with a learning disability to access.

Like the pop-up model in Ramsgate, this includes allowing reasonable adjustments at every appointment, including extra time and specialised learning disability nurses, who are often known to the patients.

Dr Gilbert from Lordswood Healthy Living Centre set up the clinics and has been able to support more than 200 people with a learning disability to receive their vaccine.

Mark Anderson, Head of the Learning Disability Service at KCHFT, said: “With more than 9,500 people in Kent and Medway with a learning disability, we knew reasonable adjustments needed to be made if they were to get the vaccine. We are pleased to be working with East Kent Mencap and Lordswood Healthy Living Centre to pilot these new schemes.”