People with learning disabilities should be among those prioritised to receive the coronavirus vaccine, the former chief medical officer for England has told MPs.
Giving evidence to the Science and Technology Select Committee, Professor Dame Sally Davies said not much was known about Covid-19 and who would be hit by the disease at the start of the pandemic.
“We didn’t know that it was infective before people became symptomatic and we didn’t know that, in the young, 75% can be infective and infected but asymptomatic,” she said.
“It took us quite a while to understand which groups were most at risk.”
Asked whether people with learning disabilities should be among the priority groups for the jab, Dame Sally said: “We have a clear sight of who is most at risk and I would think they should be included in the prioritisation of vaccines.”
She also said that, along with obesity, people with cancer and a history of cancer, particularly blood cancer, should be in the “front row for vaccines”.
It came as the jab developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, which has been shown in studies to be 95% effective and works in all age groups, has been given approval for use from next week in UK.
Elderly people in care homes and their carers are top of the list to receive a Covid-19 vaccine, according to guidance from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises ministers.
Next on the priority list are those aged 80 and above and frontline health workers, followed by those aged 75 and over, people aged 70 and over, and clinically “extremely vulnerable” individuals.
People aged 65 and over are next in line, alongside anyone aged 16 to 64 who has underlying health conditions which put them at a “higher risk of serious disease and mortality”.
A recent study by Public Health England (PHE) found that 451 per 100,000 people registered as having a learning disability died with Covid-19 between March 21 and June 5.
PHE said this death rate was 4.1 times higher than the general population after adjusting for other factors such as age and sex.
But it also warned that the real rate may have been as high as 692 per 100,000 – 6.3 times higher – because not all deaths in people with learning disabilities are registered on these databases.
The report also suggested that the disparity could be because people with learning disabilities are more prone to obesity and diabetes, which can increase the risk of dying from Covid-19.
Dame Sally said the poor state of public health and the high level of obesity in the UK has contributed to the Covid-19 death rate.
“We are one of the fattest nations of the world,” she said.
“And that is directly related to outcomes here – diabetes, heart disease … all of that.”