Jo Whiley offered Covid jab before sister in care home who later tested positive

Radio 2 DJ’s experience of sister, who has diabetes and learning disabilities, being unvaccinated backed up by other carers

Jo Whiley described it as “living through a nightmare” when she talked powerfully of her horror at being offered the coronavirus vaccine before her sister, who has a learning disability and diabetes. Within hours the nightmare was compounded by her sister testing positive for Covid. And by the end of the day the BBC Radio 2 DJ’s intervention had triggered an outpouring.

Whiley, who has been campaigning for her younger sister Frances to be prioritised for the jab, spoke of her distress after an outbreak in her care home. The DJ said she would give up her own vaccine offer “in a heartbeat” if she could so that her sister, who has the rare Cri du Chat genetic syndrome, or any of her fellow residents, could have it instead.

According to figures from the Office for National Statistics, 60% of people who died with Covid-19 in England up to November last year had a disability. For people who had a medically diagnosed learning disability, the risk of death was 3.7 times greater for both men and women than for people who did not.

People with diabetes, as well as those with a “severe or profound” learning disability, are in priority group six for the jab, but Frances comes under priority category four due to her diabetes and underlying health conditions.

Invitations for the first dose had started to be sent out on Monday to people in priority groups five and six, which includes the over-65s and people considered clinically vulnerable.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Whiley, 55, said it had felt like a “long wait” for Frances to get the vaccine and when she got the call she had been “dreading” – that there had been an outbreak in the care home – last Thursday night, her blood ran cold.

“I can’t tell you how frustrating it is and how horrendous it is,” she said. “It is the stuff of nightmares at the moment. I feel like I am living through a nightmare. All weekend it has been awful – really, really difficult. It has been hard for my parents, it has been hard for everyone in the care home, and it continues.

“And then, ironically, I got a message to say I was due to have my vaccine before my sister who has got learning difficulties and underlying health conditions. Go figure.”

Whiley described the effect on her sister’s mental health as “quite extreme” and said Frances had become “very distressed” by being unable to see her parents – she normally returns to her parents’ home every three weeks.

Frances has also refused to talk to anyone over the weekend, and while she would usually call her older sister 30 times a day, she has not picked up the phone, Whiley added.

She said her mind is “boggling” as she does not know why she had been invited to get her shot as she is not in the government’s priority groups, but suggested it was possibly because she is classed as a carer for her sister, who is 53.

“I fail to understand, to be honest with you,” Whiley said. “She is in tier six but she also has quite bad diabetes, which in my understanding puts her in tier four because she has an underlying health condition, so I would have thought that she would have been vaccinated, but that hasn’t happened.”

In response to Whiley’s interview, carer Patricia Stein said it was “illogical and unjust” that she had been invited to receive her own first dose of the vaccine before her clinically vulnerable daughter, Leigh, who has multiple co-morbidities and uses several immune suppressants and inhalers.

“My daughter has apparently been demoted to behind me in the queue even though she has been shielding since last March,” she said. Stein told the Guardian she wouldn’t get her jab until Leigh has had hers as she doesn’t want to take the risk of exposing her after attending the vaccination centre. “I’ve shielded with her all this time and want her to remain safe. Her need for a vaccination is more urgent than mine,” she said.

One mother said her whole family had received their first dose, except her son who has severe learning difficulties and autism. “They are totally overlooked!” she tweeted.

Another woman disclosed that her 46-year-old brother, who also has learning difficulties and lives in a care home, had tested positive for Covid last night. “He suffered a stroke at 29 and has lots of other issues. My world has turned upside down,” she wrote.

“It is so dreadfully upsetting that our most vulnerable are being forgotten,” wrote another user, whose severely disabled sister is also in a care home and has yet to be vaccinated, despite all the staff having received their jab.

Whiley said she wanted to speak up for people like Frances “who have been overlooked” and are neglected. “This happens so often – people with learning disabilities are neglected, they haven’t got a voice.”

When the vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, was challenged about the matter later in the programme, it was confirmed that Frances had tested positive for Covid-19 since the care home outbreak.

Zahawi said people with learning disabilities in residential care would now start getting the vaccine: “The case you’ve just described to me – living in residential care with a learning disability – is now being vaccinated in category six. We’ve just embarked on category five and six – that is happening now, so that case will be picked up.

“Of course we will need to wait 28 days after infection for us to be able to go back – hence why, for residential care, we go back four times to deliver the two doses because sometimes people can’t be given the first dose until the infection is over after 28 days.”

Contributor

Lucy Campbell

The GuardianTramp

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