People who are on a GP register for learning disabilities will now be prioritised for a coronavirus vaccine in England, following updated advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
Helen Whately, the care minister, said those registered would be invited for vaccination to ensure people at higher risk of the disease were protected as soon as possible.
Whately said: “I have heard first hand how tough this pandemic has been for people with learning disabilities and their families. We are determined those more at risk from Covid should be vaccinated as soon as possible.
“Following the JCVI’s updated advice and to make this process simpler and faster, we will be inviting everyone for vaccination who is on their GP’s learning disability register. This will mean those who are at a higher risk from the virus can get the protection they need.”
The increased risk to those with learning disabilities has been highlighted by the case of the DJ Jo Whiley, who was offered the vaccine before her sister, Frances, who has a genetic disorder and lives in residential care. Frances Whiley tested positive for coronavirus after an outbreak in her Northampton care home and was admitted to hospital.
Jo Whiley described it as a “seismic day”. She told the BBC: “This is a great day – I am so relieved, I’m so happy for all those people who’ve been living in fear.”
“I’m very grateful to the government for listening, because it’s a very complicated situation and it’s very difficult to categorise people according to their disability.
“And so this is clear, this encompasses everybody, and all those people who have been feeling very neglected, feeling like they don’t matter, that we don’t care, now know that we will be protecting them. This is absolutely crucial and I could not be more delighted. This is a massive step forward.”
Prof Anthony Harnden, the deputy chair of the JCVI, urged GPs to invite those registered with learning disabilities to come forward as the vaccine rollout reaches group six in the committee’s priority list.
Speaking to the Commons science and technology committee on Wednesday, Harnden said the aim was to reach those with severe or profound learning difficulties, adding that people with milder learning disabilities should not approach their GPs yet.
“What we want to do is try and capture in whatever way we can all those with severe and profound learning disabilities, but we don’t want everybody with a relatively mild learning disability to come forward to be vaccinated now. That would cause problems because there are over 1.5 million of those individuals,” he said.
Harnden said those registered with their GP as having learning disabilities, and those with learning disabilities in shared or residential accommodation, “should be immunised now as a priority”. About 1.2 million people have a learning disability in England, but only 250,000 are registered with GPs.
A Public Health England study in November found that people with learning disabilities were dying at six times the rate of the general population, with those in the 18 to 34 age group 30 times more likely to die with the virus than their counterparts in the wider population.