As encouraging news spreads about the success of covid-19 vaccine trials across the world, the inevitable question of prioritisation has come to the fore. Stocks will no doubt be limited at first, as will the numbers of healthcare workers administering the vaccine. Agonizing decisions will need to be made. Who should have access to the vaccine first?
The government is said to have recently adopted the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which (sensibly) proposed that priority should be given to older adults living in care homes and care home workers. The advice goes on to state that all other older adults should then be given priority, beginning with the most elderly, followed by clinically vulnerable adults above the age of 65. The advice in relation to prioritisation of those aged under 50 is yet to be determined.
Critics will note that this system is heavily weighted in favour of those aged over 65, with no mention of access to the vaccine for adults of working age who may be equally, or sometimes more, vulnerable. Recent, unimpeachable research shows there is at least one, obvious group of that kind.
On 12 November 2020 Public Health England published its report into covid-19 deaths of those with learning disabilities.
The death rate from Covid-19 for those with learning disabilities during the first wave was found to be 3 to 6 times higher than within the general population. In fact, the death rates for those with learning disabilities aged 55 to 64 were higher than those within the general population aged 75 and over.
In light of these shocking figures, those with learning disabilities and their families will feel particularly aggrieved that there is no mention of prioritising access to the vaccine for them.
Bindmans LLP is currently exploring a legal challenge to the government guidance on access to the vaccine for especially vulnerable people with learning disabilities. If you or a family member may be affected by this issue please contact Elizabeth Cleaver in our public law team.