Covid: 150,000 more people with learning disabilities prioritised for vaccines

  • Video report from ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan

Covid vaccinations will be offered to all people on the GP Learning Disabilities Register "as soon as possible" - expanding the sixth priority group by 150,000 people.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommended the change to the government on Wednesday.

Those with severe learning disabilities are already included in priority group six, while adults with less severe conditions have not been prioritised until now.

Care minister Helen 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."

She added the change will "mean those who are at a higher risk from the virus can get the protection they need".

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On Wednesday morning, the JCVI said the health service should now add all those on the GP Learning Disability Register to priority group six after analysis found they were at higher risk of death and serious illness from Covid-19.

PHE said the move will mean at least 150,000 more people with learning disabilities will be offered the vaccine more quickly.

However charity Mencap predicts there are 1.5 million people in the UK with a learning disability, with 1.2 million of them in England.

According to a report published in 2015, there were only 250,000 people on the GP Learning Disability Register in England.

What is the GP Learning Disability Register?

The GP Learning Disability Register is there to help people with learning disabilities get regular support.

People with learning disabilities experience poorer health compared to the rest of the population, but some of this is preventable with proper access to healthcare.

However, people with learning disabilities often struggle to know how to get the care they need, which can lead to some problems getting worse.Once on the register, they can get access to longer appointments, easier to access information, annual health checks, free flu vaccinations and other benefits.

BBC presenter Jo Whiley began questioning why she was offered the vaccine before her sister - who has the rare Cri du Chat genetic syndrome - last week and started to call for an expansion of the priority group.

Responding to the news, 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, it’s very, very tricky and that’s become apparent I think over the past few months.

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“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."

Group six on the vaccine priority list is currently receiving their vaccines - which includes all individuals between ages 16-64 with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality.

It was estimated before the latest announcement there were around 7.3 million people in this category, which has now increased by a further 150,000.

The expansion of the group will mean group seven, which includes all those over the age of 60 may have to wait a little longer for their vaccine.

Who are the priority groups?

1 - Residents in a care home for older adults and their carers (800,000 people) 2 - Those aged 80 and over and frontline health and social care workers (a total of 7.1 million people in this group: 3.3m over 80s, 2.4m healthcare workers, 1.4m social care workers) 3 - Those aged 75 and over (2.3 million) 4 - Those aged 70 and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals (4.4 million) 5 - Those aged 65 and over (2.9 million) 6 - All individuals aged 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality (7.3 million) 7 - Those aged 60 and over (1.8 million) 8 - Those aged 55 years and over (2.4 million) 9 - Those aged 50 years of age and over (2.8 million)

Giving evidence to MPs on Wednesday morning, the deputy chair of the JCVI, Professor Anthony Harnden said: "We wanted to give this guidance in a very loose way as we realised there were going to be operational difficulties on the ground so our guidance was that operationally, people could interpret this how they wanted to, but we felt that the more severe end of the spectrum for learning disabilities was where the risk was."He added: "We felt that saying the more severe learning difficulties should be immunised within group six and left it up to people at operational level to interpret how they defined more severe learning difficulties was the most straightforward way of doing it.

“But I do accept that has led to some inequalities throughout the country.

"Which is why I’m saying now publicly that I think that all those on the Learning Disability Register should be immunised now."

The addition of more people with learning disabilities to the register does not include people who suffer from dyslexia and dyspraxia as they are 'learning difficulties' which do not increase someone's risk to dying of Covid-19.