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Some of those most at risk are still not on the Covid vaccine priority list

With the first phase of the UK’s vaccination programme now fully under way, the government’s self-congratulatory tone suggests all clinically vulnerable groups are soon in line for protection. There’s certainly reason to be positive: millions of people are on their way to safety. But look a little closer and many high-risk people are struggling to access the vaccine.

When the vaccine was first introduced last year, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) put shielders – or the “clinically extremely vulnerable” (CEV) – as low as sixth on the priority list, behind older people with no underlying health conditions. It resulted in the baffling situation where a marathon-running 65-year-old was given priority for the vaccine over a 20-year-old with lung disease who needs oxygen support. The government U-turned after pressure, moving CEV people up to fourth spot behind healthy over-75s.

These are complex calculations, but there are still fears some will miss out. Some young disabled people who don’t meet the government’s narrow criteria of CEV and are worried they won’t be prioritised at all.

Shielders – many of whom are of working age and live with children – also have extra risk factors compared with older people. As the British Medical Association said this month, we need a more sophisticated vaccine delivery that takes into account circumstantial factors such as race, health inequality and employment. I’ve received many messages from shielders who are terrified of being forced out to work, or of schools reopening before they get their vaccine.

There are also those with learning disabilities to consider. Currently, only older people with a learning disability, those who have Down’s syndrome or people who are judged as having a severe learning disability are on the priority list. This means that people with a mild or moderate learning disability aren’t prioritised at all. This is despite the fact all people with learning disabilities have a death rate six times higher than the general population. Young adults with a learning disability are 30 times more likely to die of Covid than young adults in the general population.

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Source: The Guardian, 3 February 2021


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