Are we really all ready for this first COVID-19 jab?
by: Lucy Wilis, blogger for Disability Rights UK
The Covid-19: Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine announced last week, marks a new chapter in the UK’s fight against COVID-19, yet there are many unknowns that make the picture more complex for disabled people, many of whom face medical, practical or logistical barriers.
A 90 year old Irish woman was immunised today, the first person in the UK , receiving the first of 800,000 doses of this vaccine that will be given soon. But who will these next 800,000 be?
Matt Hancock has stated that there will be a public information campaign for the vaccine and noted health inequalities should be tackled and all communities reached.
But will the current steps to create accessible information be enough, and most critically will it come in good time?
There have been bold claims that the NHS is “equal to the task” of rolling out the vaccine free at the point of delivery, and most critically to the care home residents and carers, who are top of the priority list.
Due to the need to keep the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at a super cold temperature and with batch quantities of almost 1,000, reaching care home residents will still prove very challenging.
Going to hospitals or sports grounds to access a vaccine will just not be a realistic option for many disabled people. This is a key accessibility issue that needs to be addressed.
An issue of equal importance is how to provide more personalized medical advice on the safety and effectiveness of vaccines for people with complex or chronic medical conditions who will require specific information on impacts and risks before giving informed consent.
Matt Hancock has reportedly said on TalkRADIO that ‘there will be those who can’t have it due to medical exemptions or allergies’. Though an allergic reaction to a vaccine is very rare, the NHS have stated that people should speak to their GPs if they know of any allergies they have.
However disabled people may struggle to see a GP or other health professional in good time to discuss this, or lack the capacity to do so for themselves and need to arrange support or help.
Specific guidance for such people is urgently needed, especially as who would need to be exempt is not that clearly defined.
Without such advice and guidance, people who are high up on the priority list may still avoid taking the vaccine, or not be able to give fully informed consent to do so.
The form for vaccinators that we have seen has a checklist that asks if the person to be vaccinated has been counselled about side effects, if they have had bad reactions to vaccinations, if they have serious allergies and if they can give informed consent. It also signposts that the answer is problematic then someone more senior needs to be consulted.
While this is most welcome, we trust that these questions will also be asked when booking, if not before, as not only will it take time to arrange these factors, but some disabled people may struggle to speak up in the moment if they are not in place, especially if they are very keen to be immunised.
Furthermore, the considerable effort and support required to book and go to a vaccination centre by any disabled person should not be wasted, and neither should the valuable booking.
The general public information campaign needs to reach all disabled people, and people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.
Information needs to be clear and simple and in a variety of formats and languages. It should address the barriers that people will face in getting the vaccine and explain the reasonable adjustments that have been put in place for them. It should also explain what to do after vaccination, including help with any side effects or concerns.
In planning roll out of the vaccination program, more thought should have been, and must now be given to removing barriers to participation, including information channels, personalized medical advice, personal support, availability of public transport and cost of journeys.
The current lack of mention or consideration of accessibility barriers in the latest vaccine programme guidance and advice must be urgently addressed.
Are disabled people, including those with complex medical conditions, ready for the vaccine?
Yes and no. Yes, in that the vaccine is much needed, and would mean the end to much isolation, but no in that concerns about effectiveness for specific conditions and accessibility of the program have not yet fully been addressed.
Disabled people have been the worst affected by coronavirus, with almost two thirds of all deaths being of disabled people. Those with dementia and learning disabilities have been severely impacted. Our specific medical and accessibility needs must be recognized and put at the heart of NHS planning for the vaccination program.