COVID-19 vaccine and people living with severe mental illness

Vaccinations are the best way to protect you and others against COVID-19.  If you live with mental illness, you might be more vulnerable to COVID-19 than the rest of the population. So, getting vaccinated is a good idea.

Anyone who gets COVID-19 can become seriously ill or have long-term effects, known as Long-COVID.

Research has shown the vaccines help:

  • reduce your risk of getting seriously ill or dying from COVID-19,
  • reduce your risk of catching or spreading COVID-19, and
  • protect against COVID-19 variants.

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.

Now that most COVID restrictions have been lifted by the government, their approach on who will be offered vaccines will change from time-to-time.  You can read more about who is currently being offered a vaccine here.

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 COVID-19 vaccine and very few serious side effects or complications have been reported.

How can I book my vaccine?

If you’re currently eligible to book a vaccine you can:

  • book an appointment on this NHS website, or
  • go to an NHS vaccine walk in centre. You can find walk in centres local to you on this NHS website.

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'll consider visiting you in your own home to give you your vaccine.

If the NHS agree to give you your vaccine at home, they say they’ll try to call you before they visit 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 may have rights under the Equality Act. The NHS might have to reasonably adjust their usual vaccination procedures to help you. Such as providing a home vaccination. 

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.

Can I be medically exempt from having the vaccine?

Because of medical issues, including mental distress, not everyone can have the vaccine. You can choose not to have the vaccine. You can also apply for an NHS COVID pass to say you are medically exempt from having the COVID vaccine. You can read more on the government website here.

My employer says I must have the vaccine, but I can’t for medical reasons. What can I do?

To begin with you can explain to your manager the reasons why you can’t have the vaccine.

You can apply for an NHS COVID pass to say you are medically exempt from having the COVID vaccine. See ‘Can I be medically exempt from having the vaccine?’ above.

You might be in dispute with your employer over this matter for reasons including:

  • You get an NHS COVID pass which says you are medically exempt from having the vaccine. But your employer still won’t let you do your job. This might be the case if you work with people who are vulnerable to COVID-19.
  • You can’t get an NHS COVID pass which says you are medically exempt from having the vaccine. Your employer wants you to have the vaccine before you carry on doing your job.

If you’re in a union, you can speak to your union rep.

You can also get free expert advice from:

ACAS Helpline
You can call the ACAS helpline if you have a workplace problem you want to get advice on. They can help talk through your options.

Phone: 0300 123 1100.
Website: www.acas.org.uk/contact

If you would like more advice or information, you can contact our Advice and Information Service by clicking here.  

© Rethink Mental Illness 2022
Last updated April, 2022

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