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‘People with learning disabilities need Covid vaccine priority’

Covid vaccines

People with learning disabilities must be urgently prioritised to receive the Covid-19 vaccine, experts have warned, amid mounting evidence they are more likely to die from the virus.

The latest Office for National Statistics data showed 80% of learning disability deaths in the week to 22 January this year were linked to Covid-19, compared to just 45% in the general population.

But learning disability leaders have raised concerns that not all those with learning disabilities are in priority group four – for the over 70s and extremely clinically vulnerable – and so will not receive the vaccine by the earliest deadline in mid-February.

Priority group four includes people with Down’s Syndrome. But those with severe and profound learning disabilities are in priority group six, while those with mild or moderate learning disabilities do not make the priority list at all.                  

Jonathan Beebee, chair of the RCN’s learning disability forum, told Nursing in Practice that not recognising people with learning disabilities ‘as clinically extremely vulnerable is discrimination in itself’ given evidence they are far more likely to die from the virus.                 

He explained that people with learning disabilities often rely on ‘others coming and going from their homes’ and may ‘have difficulty understanding social rules’ such as social distancing. He added: ‘This significantly increases their vulnerability.’

Care England chief executive Professor Martin Green likewise called on the Government to ‘remove the arbitrary distinction’ and ‘place all those with a learning disability in priority group four’, adding that vaccinations must take place at places of residence and not in vaccination hubs.

Learning disability charity Mencap has similarly argued that all people with a learning disability should be included in at least priority group six, accusing the Government of ‘not acting on the clear evidence that all people with a learning disability are highly vulnerable to dying with Covid-19′.

Public Health England data from November found that people with learning disabilities in England were up to six times more likely to die from Covid-19, while the death rate for people aged 18 to 34 with learning disabilities was 30 times higher than the same age group without disabilities.