ENABLE Scotland calls for greater support for people who have a learning disability to access COVID-19 vaccinations
Following the publication of mortality data for people who have a learning disability in Scotland as a result of COVID-19, ENABLE Scotland is calling for greater support for this population to access the vaccination in Priority Group 6 in line with current JCVI guidelines.
As of this week, data is available which confirms that:
- People who have a learning disability in Scotland are at greater risk of death – three times more likely to die than the general population from COVID-19
- People who have a learning disability in Scotland are at greater risk of infection – twice as likely as the general population to test positive for COVID-19
- People who have a learning disability in Scotland are at greater risk of becoming seriously ill as a result of COVID-19 – twice as likely to be hospitalised
These findings are presented on top of existing health inequalities which result in higher mortality rates for the LD population generally – SLDO data confirms that people who have a learning disability in Scotland die twenty years earlier than the general population .
The COVID-19 vaccination programme is well underway in Scotland, based upon recommendations from the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisation). The JCVI recommended 9 Priority Groups be given the COVID-19 vaccine first. People who have Downs Syndrome are in Priority Group 4, and people who have complex and severe learning disabilities are in Priority Group 6, along with family carers.
However, Priority Group 6 also includes all individuals aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality. Whilst a learning disability in itself if not an underlying health condition, given the evidence of higher risk of serious disease and mortality across all age ranges for this population, ENABLE Scotland is supporting our colleagues at SCLD to call for better support for people to access the vaccination , and believes that every person with a learning disability in Scotland should be supported to come forward in included in the JCVI Priority Group 6 for vaccination from COVID-19.
ENABLE Scotland’s Director of Campaigns & Membership, Jan Savage said:
“People who have a learning disability are at least 3 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than the general population in Scotland – evidence from other part of the UK suggests that this could be as high as 6 times more likely People who have a learning disability are also likely to die twenty years earlier than the general population, meaning that the number of adults over the age of 65 is low. This is not only a public health scandal, but presents a real and significant challenge in equitable access to a vaccination programme which is prioritised by age – people who have a learning disability experience the effects of ageing earlier than the general population.
Beyond this, thanks to decades of campaigning for their rights to independent living, the vast majority of people who have a learning disability do not live in care homes, meaning that they will not meet the priority 1 category. We also now know that people who have a learning disability are twice as likely to become infected with COVID-19, and twice as likely to become seriously unwell, including requiring hospitalisation as a result.
In line with the SCLD position, we believe that all people who have a learning disability should be included in Priority Group 6 in the first wave of the COVID-19 vaccination programme. To support this, we call for all public health agencies in Scotland to ensure that people who have a learning disability get equitable and fair access to the vaccination programme in line with existing JCVI guidance. We believe that this should include all people who are resident in care home settings, regardless of age. For individuals who have severe and complex learning disabilities, they should be come forward in Priority Group 6 in line with current guidance.
For others, there is flexibility within the current JCVI guidelines around mitigating health inequalities which creates the opportunity for people who have a learning disability to come forward as part of Priority Group 6 for the first phase of the vaccination programme with the support of their GP. However, we understand from our members that this is proving to be difficult due to the status of learning disability within GP records, and local awareness of this position.
The SLDO data confirms that significant health inequalities are present in Scotland for this population. We now need primary care staff to recognise this and to be supported to reach out to their patients who have a learning disability to come forward.
We ask the Scottish Government to now take action to ensure that people who have a learning disability in Scotland have access to the support they need to be protected from harm as a result of COVID-19 through ensuring a seamless route for GPs to support people who have a learning disability to access the vaccination programme.”
The JCVI Guidance is published here: Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation: advice on priority groups for COVID-19 vaccination, 30 December 2020 – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
The SCLD position statement is published here: SCLD-Health-inequalities-vaccination-statement-roll-out-Feb-2021-Final_designed.pdf
ENABLE Scotland easy read guide to the vaccination programme is here: www.enable.org.uk/vaccine
If you need more information about the Covid-19 vaccination programme, we are here for you:
- People who have a learning disability – please call the ACE Connect helpline on 0300 303 1928 for more information and advice
- Family Carers – please call the Family Connect helpline on 0300 303 0228 for more information and advice
 Source – Public Health England COVID-19: deaths of people with learning disabilities – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)