Thousands of adults with learning disabilities on GP registers in Northamptonshire will be prioritised for a coronavirus vaccine following new advice from Government advisers.
Some adults with severe learning disabilities have already received their first jab or were due to be invited for theirs in the next stage of the rollout in England, but disability campaigners and charities had warned this left many with less severe conditions at risk from the virus.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation said yesterday, Wednesday, that all adults on the GP learning disability register should be invited for a jab alongside others in priority group six – people aged 16-64 with underlying health conditions.
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The move has been welcomed by Jo Whiley, who highlighted the issue while her sister was being treated in Northamptonshire after testing positive.
NHS data shows 3,634 adult patients in the Northamptonshire CCG area were identified by their GP as having a learning disability as of September last year – the latest available figures.
They were among 260,000 adults with learning disabilities on GP lists across England – with 51,054 in the Midlands – although the true figure is thought to be much higher.
Analysis of Office for National Statistics figures by charity Mencap suggests there are 951,000 across England – with 182,000 of those in the Midlands.
Nationally, around 224,000 people with learning disabilities are thought to be 65 and over, while 25,000 have Down’s Syndrome.
They will have already been offered their first jab due to being in the top four priority groups, which were reached by mid-February.
Those with severe and profound learning disabilities (around 350,000) were already in group six, as are an estimated 100,000 with other serious health issues.
This had meant an additional 100-200,000 people with mild or moderate learning disabilities were not in any of the nine high-priority groups – though some CCGs had made the decision to prioritise them prior to the latest advice.
Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the JCVI, told MPs that leaving it to local health authorities to decide which people in their areas had “more severe” learning difficulties may have led to some inequalities.
The committee is now calling for others within the community, who may not yet be registered as having a learning disability, to be identified.
Jackie O'Sullivan, executive director of communication, advocacy and activism at Mencap, said the announcement was "fantastic news".
She added: “It's now crucially important that everyone with a learning disability checks that they are on the register and asks to go on it if they are not.
"Being on the register has many benefits and entitles people to annual health checks and prioritisation for future vaccinations, as well as allowing them to get the Covid vaccine and be confident they are protected.”
Recent ONS figures show the risk of death involving Covid-19 was 3.7 times greater for people with a medically diagnosed learning disability, compared with people who did not have one.
Broadcaster Jo Whiley had been campaigning for all those with learning disabilities to get the vaccine as soon as possible, after questioning why she was offered it before her sister, who has learning difficulties and diabetes.
Following the news, she told the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire: "I'm so relieved, I'm so happy for all those people who have been living in fear.
"All those people who had been feeling very neglected, feeling like they don't matter, that we don't care, now know that we will be protecting them."
Care minister Helen Whately said those who are at a higher risk from the virus "can get the protection they need", as she confirmed the Government would follow the latest advice from the JCVI.