People with learning disabilities dying at a greater rate from coronavirus

Younger adults with a learning disability are 30 times more likely to die of Covid than those in the general population

Shaun Lintern
Health Correspondent
Wednesday 03 February 2021 01:49 GMT
People with learning disabilities are at greater risk of dying from Covid-19
People with learning disabilities are at greater risk of dying from Covid-19 (Victoria Jones/PA)

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People with a learning disability must be urgently prioritised for the coronavirus vaccine, charities have warned as new data shows they are almost twice as likely to die from the virus than the general population.

The latest data for learning disability deaths shows 80 per cent of deaths in the week to 22 January were linked to Covid-19. This compares to just 45 per cent in the general population.

The charity Mencap said everyone with a learning disability should be prioritised for the vaccine.

According to its analysis of deaths reported to the Office for National Statistics and the national Learning Disabilities Mortality Review programme, the proportion of deaths among the learning disabled has been increasing every week since November when it was just above 35 per cent.

By the New Year, the proportion of deaths linked to Covid-19 rose to more than 50 per cent and is now at 80 per cent.

NHS England said around 1,140 people with learning disabilities had died since the start of the pandemic, with around 60 people dying in the latest week.

Public Health England has previously estimated people with a learning disability are around six times more likely to die from Covid-19.

Younger adults aged 18 to 34 with a learning disability are 30 times more likely to die of Covid than young adults in the general population.

Currently those with a severe or profound learning disability and adults with Down’s syndrome are on the priority list, but people with a mild or moderate learning disability are not being prioritised at all.

Mencap said 65 per cent of those with a learning disability who died from Covid in the first wave in England had a mild or moderate disability.  

Mencap estimates that including all people with a learning disability on the vaccine priority list would only add an extra 100,000 to 200,000 people.

Harry Roche, an ambassador at Mencap who has a learning disability, said: “The death rate for 18- to 34-year-olds with a learning disability is 30 times higher than the rest of the population. I’m 32 years old and have a learning disability – this statistic scares me. I’m calling on Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock to rethink and prioritise everyone with a learning disability. We are too often forgotten, don’t ignore us now.”

Dan Scorer, head of policy added: “People with a learning disability have long been forgotten and discriminated against, and never more so than in this crisis. They have died at greater rates, had do not resuscitate orders slapped on their files and suffered through severe isolation. The services and support they rely on have been removed and their physical and mental health has suffered – many are struggling to cope.  

“The government is not acting on the clear evidence that all people with a learning disability are highly vulnerable to dying from Covid-19, not only those already included in vaccine priority groups.

“While age is understandably the key determinant in the priority list, it doesn’t take account of the fact that a person with a learning disability dies on average over 20 years younger than the general population. Ultimately the JCVI’s medical approach to the priority list is flawed and fails to consider a host of social, economic and health inequalities.”

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