Mencap is urging the government to ensure everyone with a learning disability is prioritised for a coronavirus booster vaccine this autumn.
The call comes in response to a new report from The British Medical Journal, which warned that people with a learning disability are “extremely vulnerable” to COVID-19 and should be protected.
The research, led by academics from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, assessed data on more than 14 million people, including 90,000 on the learning disability register.
It found that people with a learning disability with COVID-19 are five times more likely to be admitted to hospital and eight times more likely to die compared to the general population in England.
The current advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation – to be finalised before September – is to offer a third COVID jab this autumn to adults aged 16 and over who are immunosuppressed or clinically extremely vulnerable; residents in care homes for older adults; all adults aged 70 and over; and frontline health and social care workers.
After these groups, the vaccine is expected to be offered to all adults aged 50 and over; adults aged 16-49 who are in a flu or COVID-19 at-risk group; and those living in the same house of people who are immunosuppressed.
Commenting on the report, Dan Scorer, head of Policy and Public Affairs at Mencap, said: “As we move into a new phase of the pandemic, it’s critical that the Government prioritises everyone with a learning disability for booster jabs in the autumn. Despite the shockingly high death rate of people with a learning disability from Covid-19, it’s not clear whether they will be prioritised. The Government and NHS must also raise awareness of the Learning Disability register and the benefits of being on it amongst people with a learning disability and their families, as being on the register has many benefits and entitles people to annual health checks, as well as the flu jab to help keep them safe and well.
“We also urge the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to include disabled young people in the vaccine programme, as is happening in other countries. This is particularly important for young people who are clinically extremely and who are extremely worried about the final stage of lockdown easing in just a few days time.”
The BMJ report highlighted “worrying attitudes and predudices” about the value of the lives of people with learning disabilities during the pandemic.
Use of Do Not Attempt Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (DNACPR) orders for people with life threatening infections, for example, resulted in fear and outrage among the families of people with learning disabilities, friends, advocates, and those providing support, the report said.
Researchers noted how the Covid-19 vaccination programme also disadvantaged people with learning disabilities, prioritising people according to age rather than severity of comorbid disorders.
BBC presenter Jo Wiley for example, reported how she and her parents were offered vaccines before her sister, who had a severe learning disability.
Scorer added: “The BMJ’s findings provide further evidence of the shocking health inequalities faced by people with a learning disability during the pandemic. People with a learning disability have long been forgotten about and discriminated against, and never more so than in this crisis.”