Supporting people with learning disabilities to get life-saving coronavirus vaccine

Friday 30 July 2021

James Beveridge and Kayode

Nurses from Guy's and St Thomas' are helping people with learning disabilities to get vital support so they can have the COVID-19 vaccine, and better protect themselves and their families against the disease. The specialist nurses are adapting relaxation and other coping methods to help people reduce any anxiety they may be experiencing before receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. 

The Learning Disabilities Mortality Review found that in 2020, 24% of learning disability deaths were caused by COVID-19 compared to just 13% of deaths in the general population. 

James Beveridge, 55, from Brockley has a mild learning disability and was supported to get his first dose of the coronavirus vaccine in June 2021, by Guy’s and St Thomas’ specialist learning disabilities nurse, Lee Moore and student nurse, Kayode Aderinwale, from London Southbank University. 

Lee and Kayode met James at home and provided accessible information about the team and the vaccination process. They taught James "the blood pressure cuff method" where patients learn how to inflate a blood pressure cuff comfortably and safely to help people to relax.   

James said: "I felt very nervous, I don't like needles. It was good to have someone to talk to about the vaccine.” 

"Lee told me it does work and showed me a picture of people getting the jab. We used a blood pressure pump (inflating and deflating it) to relax me before taking the jab.” 

Lee helped James to repeat the process several times, up until the date of the vaccination. Once inside the vaccination hub at Lewisham Hospital, James, who was supported by his aunt, used the technique immediately before taking the vaccine.   

"I watched a video of the FA cup final and within 5 minutes the needle was in. I've had no problems since." 

James says he is confident that he will be able to receive his second dose of the vaccine in August with Lee and Kayode's support and without sedation. James managed to take the first does of his vaccination without being prescribed any sedative medications. 

Lee Moore, a specialist learning disability nurse at Guy's and St Thomas', said: "What we've found is that a lot of people who develop phobias around having jabs do so because of distressing childhood experiences [around needles]. By getting our methods right people like James will be more likely to come back for their second dose with a lower degree of anxiety than before." 

The team of nurses and therapists from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Adults with Learning Disabilities service support GPs to carry out home vaccinations and encourage people with learning disabilities to attend vaccination hubs. The team, who cover Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham, also carried out virtual 'welfare' checks for more than 150 people during the first and second waves of the pandemic to support people in their own homes. 

Lee said: "We were calling some of our most vulnerable people every day, who are living alone and with no other family members to support them, to avoid a crisis.” 

"Suddenly the rules that we've lived by, and we applied day to day had changed. For some people with learning disabilities this change can be even more challenging. For example, they may find communication more difficult to understand. We use video calls to meet and help familiarise people with what we look like without personal protective equipment." 

"It’s all about making reasonable adjustments to empower people with learning disabilities so they are able to receive the vaccines." 

If you would like to find out more about support for people with learning disabilities and the vaccination programme, contact 020 3989 0550 or email: [email protected]

Last updated: July 2021

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