COVID-19 vaccine and people living with severe mental illness
In early December 2020, the first vaccine developed to protect people against the coronavirus pandemic was launched in the UK. Other vaccines have since been approved. Under current proposals, people diagnosed and living with severe mental illness are classed as a high priority group to receive the vaccine. This page will help you understand more about the vaccine, as well as where you can find additional information.
What are COVID-19 vaccines?
Different COVID-19 vaccines have been developed and many people have now received the first dose of a vaccine. The vaccines have been approved by the medicines regulator, The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). They say that the vaccines are safe.
- 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.
Who will be offered the vaccine first?
As millions of people will want the vaccine, the government must decide what groups of people will be offered it first. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advises the government on vaccines and immunisation. They have advised on who should be offered the vaccine and when they should be offered it.
The JCVI say that people with underlying health conditions are a priority group. This includes people living with severe mental illness.
So, if you live with severe mental illness the JCVI say you should be offered a vaccine once one has been offered to people who are:
- residents in a care home for older adults,
- frontline health, social care and care home workers,
- 65 and over, and
- clinically extremely vulnerable.
Also, with the help of technology NHS professionals are identifying other people who may be at high risk from COVID-19. This might be because of them living with more than one health condition. These people will also be invited to have the vaccine as priority. So, you might be offered a vaccine as priority even if you don’t have a severe mental illness or fit into one of the other priority groups.
What do they mean by severe mental illness?
For the purposes of the vaccination, 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.”
We can’t find any information on what Public Health England means by ‘or any mental illness that causes severe functional impairment.’ But we will update this information if we find out more.
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 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 vaccine as someone with severe mental illness.
I’m an unpaid carer of someone who lives with severe mental illness. What can I do to get a vaccine?
You might be an unpaid carer of someone who lives with severe mental illness and you’ve not yet been offered a vaccine.
Unpaid carers are in group 6 of the priority groups, alongside people with underlying health conditions. Which includes those who live with severe mental illness. 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’ve not yet been offered a vaccine.
How will I be offered a vaccine?
When the NHS are ready to offer you a vaccine, they will contact you inviting you to book an appointment. You can then book an appointment online here.
At your appointment you’ll be asked questions about your medical history. This is so NHS staff can make sure it’s safe for you to have the vaccine.
If you have any questions or concerns about the vaccine before your appointment you can speak to your GP or call NHS 111.
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.
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:
• 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.
You can read more on page 62 of this NHS document.
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 jab 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 are need a home vaccination, but your 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 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.
Where can I read JCVI’s advice to the government?
You can read the JCVI's advice to the government here. The full priority list is on page 8 and information on ‘Underlying health conditions’ starts on page 5. You can find out what is meant by ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ on page 4.
Will I get a booster vaccination in the autumn?
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) have advised the government that booster vaccinations should be offered starting in September 2021.
The JCVI have recommended that those most at risk be offered boosters first. But details of this have yet to be decided. We will update this information when we know more about the booster programme.
© Rethink Mental Illness 2021
Last updated July 2021
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