Don't consign people with learning disabilities to the end of the Covid vaccine queue
- Credit: PA/Aaron Chown
At the parliamentary debate on the Covid-19 pandemic and people with learning disabilities on December 15, MPs reflected the deep anxieties of individuals and families in our community, including concerns about vaccinations.
Covid-19 has caused a high toll of disease and death, particularly among older people in residential care, but also among younger learning disabled adults, both in care and in the community.
Several speakers indicated the adverse effects of the pandemic lockdowns on mental health and the failure of hospitals to make "reasonable adjustments" to the needs of people with learning disabilities and their families and carers, particularly where specialist learning disabilities nurses had been redeployed to Covid emergency care duties.
Responding to the debate, care minister Helen Whatley confirmed that those with Down Syndrome would be regarded as "clinically extremely vulnerable" and included in priority group 4 for the Covid vaccination.
However, the wider population of people with learning disabilities – some 250,000 people in the UK – remain in priority group 6 (of a total of nine groups), together with a wide range of adults considered to be "at risk" and their carers.
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This decision has been taken despite the recent report from Public Health England and the Learning Disabilities Mortality Review which revealed that people with learning disabilities suffered a death rate from Covid of up to six times that of the general population in the first wave of the pandemic.
When I wrote to our MP Catherine West on behalf of the local community of people with autism and learning disabilities, she told me that she had heard from carers at a recent (socially-distanced) coffee morning of the high level of concern about the impact of Covid, both in terms of the virus itself and in terms of the suspension of services and restrictions on day opportunities. She reassured me that she would "pursue the issue of vaccines in parliament at the earliest opportunity".
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We must make sure that people with learning disabilities are not consigned – as usual - to the end of the queue.
Blessings to you all for 2021.
- Mary Langan is chair of the Severe and Complex Autism and Learning Disabilities Group (SCALD).