Much more work needs to be done to vaccinate vulnerable people supported in social care and the wider care workforce, according to the National Care Forum (NCF).
The NCF highlighted that people with a mild or moderate learning disability, such as autism, were not in the first phase priority group for vaccinations despite Public Health England data showing their COVID-19 deaths rates were up to four times higher than the general population.
Kathy Roberts, CEO of The Association of Mental Health Providers – the leading representative body for voluntary and community sector mental health organisations in England and Wales – and Chair of the Care Provider Alliance, said people with severe mental illness should be added to the priority list.
“People with mental health issues, and especially severe mental illness, for example, Schizophrenia, have an increased risk of mortality from COVID-19,” Kathy said.
“Often these individuals have medical comorbidities placing them at considerably higher risk of dying or having lasting or more severe consequences from COVID-19 than the wider population. For people with Schizophrenia, many of whom are supported in the community and not in residential settings, the risks could be as much as three times higher.
“Whilst, there is much to celebrate from the achievements of the vaccine rollout in the UK to date, people with learning disabilities and severe mental illness are the forgotten parts of the social care system in the vaccine prioritisation programme.
“The individuals who are at risk are not yet afforded the same level of access to the vaccine as the general population. Every effort must be taken to prioritise their access to the vaccine in order to save lives. We have a duty to protect the most vulnerable in our society and the right to access to the vaccine must be equally distributed to all those who are at greatest risk.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We know this is a uniquely challenging period for people across the country, and the NHS is working tirelessly to vaccinate people most at risk, as quickly as possible.
“The Government is closely following the advice from independent experts on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) on which groups of people to prioritise for COVID-19 vaccines.
“The JCVI looked extensively at all the available data, including data on people with learning disabilities, and advised the most immediate priority should be to prevent deaths of clinically extremely vulnerable individuals, and protect health and care staff on the frontline.”