COVID-19 vaccine and people living with severe mental illness

All adults, and some children, will have now been offered COVID-19 vaccines.

The NHS have started to offer some groups of people COVID-19 booster vaccines. This includes people diagnosed and living with severe mental illness, and their carers. This is because they are classed as a high priority group to receive the booster vaccine.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advise the government on vaccines. They are concerned that people living with some long-term health conditions are at an increased risk of experiencing more severe symptoms of COVID-19. This includes people living with severe mental illness. The vaccine and booster are the best way to protect people.

This page will help you understand more about the vaccine, as well as where you can find additional information.

Are COVID-19 vaccines safe?

Different COVID-19 vaccines have been developed. The vaccines have been approved by the medicines regulator, The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). They say that the vaccines are safe.

You can read information about the vaccines from the NHS here and the government here. It will help you to read this information if you’re worried about having a vaccine. It says that:

  • the vaccines have met strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness, and
  • millions of people have been given a coronavirus vaccine and very few serious side effects or complications have been reported.

Will I get a booster vaccination?

The groups that will be offered a booster vaccine include.

  • Those living in residential care homes for older adults.
  • All adults aged 50 or over.
  • Frontline health and social care workers.
  • All those aged 16 to 49 years with certain underlying health conditions and their carers, including people who live with severe mental illness.
  • Adult household contacts of immunosuppressed individuals.

Booster vaccines are effective for topping up protection for people who have had both of their vaccines. They should be given at least 6 months after the second vaccine.

I’ve not had my first or second vaccine yet. How can I book it?

You can book your first or second vaccine on this NHS website.

What do they mean by severe mental illness?

For the purposes of the vaccine, Public Health England say that people who live with severe mental illness are:

“Individuals with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, or any mental illness that causes severe functional impairment.”

If you have been diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, your GP surgery should have a record of it. But you can contact your GP surgery to tell them that you have been diagnosed with one of these conditions to make sure they know. This is so you’ll definitely be invited to have the booster vaccine when it’s your turn.

You might have been diagnosed with another type of mental illness that you think causes you severe functional impairment. You can contact your GP surgery to tell them this. You can say that you think you should be invited to have the booster vaccine as someone with severe mental illness.

We can’t find any information on what Public Health England mean exactly by ‘or any mental illness that causes severe functional impairment.’ But the NHS say GPs are encouraged to keep prioritising people with mental illness, applying a flexible approach to defining severe mental illness.

I’m an unpaid carer of someone who lives with severe mental illness. What can I do to get a booster vaccine?

You might be an unpaid carer of someone who lives with severe mental illness. You should be offered a booster vaccine.

Unpaid carers are defined as:

“Those who are in receipt of a carer’s allowance, or those who are the main carer of an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if the carer falls ill.”

You can contact your GP and your local authority. Say that you are unpaid carer of someone who lives with severe mental illness and you want to be offered a booster vaccine.

How will I be offered a booster vaccine?

You don’t need to contact the NHS or your GP to arrange your booster vaccine. The NHS will be in touch with you when you become eligible for the vaccine.

You will get a call or text from your local GP-led site to get the booster vaccine, or you will be invited by the NHS National Booking Service.

The booster programme will be delivered through existing vaccination sites including pharmacies, hospital hubs, GP practices and vaccine centres.

I’ll find it difficult to go to the vaccination centre. What can I do?

You might find it difficult to go to a vaccination centre because of the mental illness you live with, or another medical condition or disability.

You can tell your GP if you will find it difficult to go to a vaccination centre.

Where possible, the NHS say they will arrange for you to visit the vaccination site. This will be with support from people like NHS community workers and your family and carers.

You might be unable to leave your home at all, or require lots of assistance to do so, because of:

  • illness,
  • frailty,
  • surgery,
  • mental ill health, or
  • you’re nearing the end of your life.

The NHS say they will visit you in your own home to give you your vaccine.

If you have a home vaccine the NHS say you’ll probably be offered the Oxford/ AstraZeneca vaccine as it’s easier to store.

The NHS say they’ll try to call you before they visit your home to:

  • check that you’re well and the home visit can proceed, and
  • someone is available to let the vaccination team in.

Before they arrive, the vaccination team will ask if for someone to open windows to improve ventilation, if possible.

If you’re unable to leave your home at all because of mental illness, or other illness or disability, you have rights under the Equality Act. The NHS should reasonably adjust their usually vaccination procedures to help you. So, you have a right to a home vaccination.

I’m under 30 and need a home vaccination. What can I do?

The NHS use the Oxford/ AstraZeneca vaccine for home vaccinations as it’s easier to store. But the under-30s are offered an alternative vaccine to Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine due to evidence linking it to rare blood clots.

So, try and get to a vaccination hub if you can. See ‘What other adjustments or support can I ask for?’ below for advice.

You might not be able to get to a vaccination hub because of how the mental illness you live with affects you. But the NHS might say they can’t offer you a home vaccination as only the Oxford/ AstraZeneca vaccine can be used.

The risk of developing a blood clot or dying because of the Oxford/ AstraZeneca vaccine is very low. See here for more information. So, you can think about the benefits and the risks of having the Oxford/ AstraZeneca vaccine. You can talk to your GP about it.

If you decide that you want the Oxford/ AstraZeneca vaccine at home tell your GP. Ask them to arrange a home vaccination for you.

I’m finding it hard to get a home vaccination. What can I do?

If you need a home vaccination, but you’re finding it hard to get one, you can:

What other adjustments or support can I ask for?

When you book your vaccination, you can say if there are any other reasonable adjustments which will help or support you. These could be things like:

  • A longer appointment time or one later in the day.
  • Somewhere quiet to sit while you wait for your appointment.
  • Support and reassurance if you are afraid of needles.
  • A relative or friend being with you at your vaccination appointment.
  • Going to a vaccination setting where that is familiar to you, or you feel confident travelling to.
  • Giving reminders about the vaccination to a relative or friend.
  • A clear and careful explanation about the vaccine and time for you to ask questions or raise concerns.

I take medication. Is it safe for me to have the vaccination?

You might take medication and want to know if it’s still safe for you to have the vaccine.

The medication might be to treat mental illness or another medical condition.

Public Health England say there are very few individuals who can’t have a vaccine for COVID-19.

But if you want to know if it’s still safe for you to have the vaccine you can speak to your GP.

Before you have the vaccine, you should be asked questions about any medication you take and any medical conditions you have. Make sure you tell the professional who is going to give you the vaccine this information. It will help you to write down what medications you’re taking before your vaccine appointment.

 

© Rethink Mental Illness 2021
Last updated September 2021

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