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12 March 2021

Tackling barriers to accessing the COVID-19 vaccine

A pilot scheme to make it easier for people with a learning disability to receive the COVID-19 vaccine was launched this week.

A visit to one of the large-scale vaccination centres may not be the most accessible way to receive a vaccine if you have a learning disability; the sheer size and amount of people could be scary or intimidating.

Now thanks to a partnership between Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust (KCHFT), primary care networks and East Kent Mencap – a charity empowering people with a learning disability – people with a learning disability will have improved access to the COVID-19 vaccination.

East Kent Mencap has shared its resource centre in Ramsgate to host a pop-up vaccine centre. This provides a familiar environment to people with a learning disability, putting them at ease and helping make the process run smoothly. On hand to deliver the vaccine will be KCHFT learning disability nurses and allied health professionals who will allow extra time to work with each patient as they receive their vaccine.

Jason Gerlack, CEO of East Kent Mencap, said: “I have huge pride knowing we are working with the NHS to make access that bit easier for our members to get the vaccine. We are delighted to play our small part in the roll-out of the vaccine and hope to see more pop-up clinics happening soon.”

Despite being needle-phobic, Gavin Harrington, 40, received his vaccine at the pop-up clinic with the support of his father, Kevin in the familiarity of East Kent Mencap, where he attends resource centre.

“I never would have thought Gavin would have been so calm to receive his vaccine. The fact that he was is because he was in a space he knew without any crowds,” said Kevin.

“In the past, he has really struggled with needles and I wasn’t sure if he could have the vaccine, but as soon as we were asked if he would like to attend the pop-up clinic, we knew we had to give it a try to help him get protected. I am so glad that something like this has been created to support Gavin and other people with a learning disability.”

Gavin is really looking forward to seeing his friends again in the future as he has missed them during lockdown and the pandemic. Having his vaccine takes him one step closer to seeing them again.

In Medway, KCHFT is working with a primary care network to provide a specific clinic for people with a learning disability to access.

Like the pop-up model in Ramsgate, this includes allowing reasonable adjustments at every appointment, including extra time and specialised learning disability nurses, who are often known to the patients.

Dr Gilbert from Lordswood Healthy Living Centre set up the clinics and has been able to support more than 200 people with a learning disability to receive their vaccine.

Mr Proctor, whose son, Lee, visited the Medway clinic, had nothing but praise for the service. He said: “The whole process was seamless and this was down to the understanding of the needs of my son. The nurses made Lee feel relaxed and not rushed and all of the adjustments for him made the whole process great. I cannot thank the nurses enough, we are so grateful for the support. I am over the moon to know that my son is now a little bit more protected against the virus.”

Mark Anderson, Head of the Learning Disability Service at KCHFT, said: “With more than 9,500 people in Kent and Medway with a learning disability, we knew reasonable adjustments needed to be made if they were to get the vaccine. We are pleased to be working with East Kent Mencap and Lordswood Healthy Living Centre to pilot these new schemes.”