22nd April 2021: Our extra efforts and persistence has meant even more autistic adults and people with learning disabilities have received their coronavirus vaccination.

Staff and volunteers at Teamwork Trust have been going the extra mile to make special arrangements so that service-users and the wider LD communities in North Northamptonshire – who are six times more likely to die from Covid-19* – do not miss out on the Covid jab.  

Their efforts to team up with local families, care homes and doctors’ surgeries in Corby, Kettering and Wellingborough have had a positive impact, as more vaccine centres adapt their processes to reassure and encourage adults with special needs to come forward. Almost 80% of the charity’s cohort have now had their first dose.

The charity’s support workers have been booking and chasing appointments, suggesting new ways to manage queues and systems, providing evidence of health issues, making travel arrangements and even walking service-users through the process on the day. Their easy-to-read information packs have also helped people better understand the procedure and to feel less anxious.

“We’ve been supporting our service-users every step of the way and it’s now filtered down to others. If we hadn’t stepped in when we did, there would be lots of people with learning disabilities and autism that still wouldn’t have had it,” said Sarah Ribchester, whose role as Teamwork’s engagement officer is to support service-users in all aspects of their social care.

“These adults often have underlying health issues or are really anxious about injections and the vaccine in general. They are among the most clinically vulnerable in our community, and yet we found they were still being forgotten when it came to the vaccine roll out – even despite the recent media attention and those on the GP Learning Disability Register being placed in priority group 6."

"It can be a challenge for someone who struggles with their reading and communication to even book in for the jab, but they also might need help in other ways – getting to the appointment, understanding what is happening when they’re there and help overcoming the side effects. Our work has been about a smoother process for adults with learning disabilities to get the vaccine.”

Weavers Medical Centre in Kettering is one of the local GP surgeries Teamwork has been liaising with. Setting up separate appointments away from the main vaccine centre, spending extra time to talk to patients with learning disabilities, and working with families and carers to offer convenient times are just some of the ways they have adapted. They did all this and more for Linda Arneill, whose 26-year-old son has autism and epilepsy.

“Needles cause a great deal of distress for my son and he just won’t let anyone near him. I had already tried to prepare him, but Teamwork gave me lots of extra advice, and also suggested I request a particular vaccine which would give less side effects – seeing as he cannot communicate to tell me he’s feeling poorly, this was really useful. Weavers Medical Centre have been absolutely brilliant too. The doctors went out of their way with arrangements before we even got there and then spent 40 minutes trying to comfort and reassure my son.  I am so grateful to have been listened to and supported.”

For more information on Teamwork Trust and the Living & Learning programme, visit www.teamworktrust.co.uk.

* Stats from Mencap, BBC, The Guardian, Independent.