Everyone on the GP Learning Disability Register will now be prioritised for vaccination © Hanna Kuprevich/Alamy

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At least 150,000 people with a learning disability are to be given earlier access to a Covid-19 vaccine, after government advisers issued guidance that expands eligibility for a group that has been hard hit by the disease.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said it had advised the government and the NHS to invite all people on the GP Learning Disability Register for vaccination.

Campaigners said that, although the change was not all encompassing, it meant some with a mild or moderate condition would now be included because everyone with a learning disability is eligible to be on the register.

The toll coronavirus has taken on this group is underlined by ONS data that showed women with a learning disability normally die at three times the rate of other women — but they have died from Covid at four times the rate. For men, rates are generally 2.8 times higher, but in the pandemic they have been 3.5 times higher.

The JCVI said its advice remained that adults with severe and profound learning disabilities, and those with learning disabilities in long-stay nursing and residential care, should be offered the vaccine in priority group 6 — which is currently being vaccinated; people with Down’s syndrome are included in group 4. Adults with less severe learning disabilities are not currently prioritised, it said.

It went on: “However, 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.”

An updated analysis, including data from the second wave of the pandemic, “confirmed a higher risk of mortality and morbidity in those on the GP register with learning disabilities”.

To ensure those most at risk of death or hospitalisation were prioritised, “JCVI supports the 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”, it said.

Professor Wei Shen Lim, Covid-19 chair for the JCVI, said people who were severely affected by learning disabilities were 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.”

Jackie O'Sullivan, executive director of communication, advocacy and activism at Mencap, the learning disability charity, said: “This is a hugely welcome announcement, and fantastic news for people with a learning disability.”

She added that it was now “crucially important” that everyone with a learning disability checked that they were on the register and asked to go on it if they were not.

Helen Whately, social care minister, 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.”

The current nationwide lockdown rules in England

  • The main restriction is a firm stay-at-home message

  • People are only allowed to leave their home to go to work if they cannot reasonably do so from home, to shop for essential food, medicines and other necessities and to exercise with their household or one other person — once a day and locally

  • The most clinically vulnerable have been asked to shield

  • All colleges and primary and secondary schools are closed until a review at half-term in mid-February. Vulnerable children and children of critical workers are still able to attend while nursery provision is available

  • University students have to study from home until at least mid-February

  • Hospitality and non-essential retail are closed. Takeaway services are available but not for the sale of alcohol

  • Entertainment venues and animal attractions such as zoos are closed. Playgrounds are open

  • Places of worship are open but one may attend only with one’s household

  • Indoor and outdoor sports facilities, including courts, gyms, golf courses, swimming pools and riding arenas, are closed. Elite sport, including the English Premier League, continues

  • Overseas travel is allowed for “essential” business only 

Full details are available on the government’s official website.

 

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