‘Victory’ – campaigners with learning disabilities celebrate vaccine news

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One campaigner said he “feels like I’ve banged in about 10 or 20 goals” after the Government announced the prioritisation of all adults on the learning disability register for a coronavirus vaccine.

People with the most severe and profound learning disabilities were already part of the priority group six, adults aged 16-64 with underlying health conditions.

However, Care Minister Helen Whately confirmed that all people on the GP learning disability register will now be invited for a vaccine as part of this group.

The announcement was made on Wednesday following calls from leading charities and the high-profile case involving BBC presenter Jo Whiley’s sister Frances, who became ill with Covid this week.

Harry Roche, 32, from Hertfordshire, an ambassador for the learning disability charity Mencap, has a learning disability and autism, and has been campaigning for vaccine priority.

“It just feels like I’ve banged in about 10 or 20 goals!” he told the PA news agency.

“It means a lot to the learning disability community.

“I was excited and relieved because it took a lot of effort.

“It feels like all the campaigning I’ve been doing (has) paid off.

“It’s been tough work, we’ve been working tirelessly.

“That includes making videos, speaking to the press, campaigning on social media.

“Mencap and people with a learning disability and their families campaigned tirelessly for this, and I think today is a day to celebrate something special.”

Mencap ambassador Harry Roche, who has a learning disability
Mencap ambassador Harry Roche, who has a learning disability (Harry Roche)

This was despite concerns that they could be at greater risk from the virus – a study by Public Health England found that people with learning disabilities in England were up to six times more likely to die with coronavirus during the first wave of the outbreak.

Learning Disability England’s membership and engagement lead Gary Bourlet, 61, from Westgate-on-Sea in Kent, has a mild learning disability.

He has already booked his first vaccine appointment following Wednesday’s announcement.

“I’m excited,” he told PA.

“I heard from a group of people with a learning disability and they were cheering and excited about it.

“They can’t wait.

“I’m hoping to get back socialising again, I miss my friends.”

However, he said that people with learning disabilities are “tired” of having to fight for such adjustments.

“It has always been like that for people with learning disabilities.

“We have to keep on fighting all the time to get our rights,” he said.

“We’re a bit tired and fed up with always trying to fight our corner all the time.”

Jackie O’Sullivan, executive director of communication, advocacy and activism at Mencap, urged people to check if they are on the register and to ask to go on it if they are not.

She added: “Being on the register has many benefits and entitles people to annual health checks and prioritisation for future vaccinations, as well as allowing them to get the Covid vaccine and be confident they are protected.”

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