Alongside the rest of the sector, we continue to be concerned by the Government’s refusal to reconsider the position of those with learning disabilities and autism in the vaccine priority list - despite the disproportionate number of deaths from Covid-19 in this group*.

So, we were delighted to see that those who live at Hollyrood, our residential and day centre service for people with autism in Haywards Heath, have now been offered the vaccine and afforded increased protection.

This involved careful planning to deliver a combined team effort of supportive strategies to ensure that people supported by the service were comfortable with the vaccination process, involving staff from the Trust and family members.

Ivan Machado, Assistant Manager, said: “Receiving the vaccinations is a huge step forward and allows us to see the light at the end of the tunnel and being able to provide some sort of normality back into the lives of the people we support is something we all look forward to.

“The pandemic has not only had a significant impact to their lives and routines but impacting the physical interaction with their families, and access to their local community.

“Our staff have been amazing. With sourcing new, safe activities, dealing with the additional pressures of the pandemic and introducing a number of strategies to explain the vaccination process to those we support. This has been a combined approach which has included family members receiving the vaccine over video to show the process, de-sensitisation work with the health team using a toy syringe where we put it near the person to familiarise them with the process. We liaised with the NHS team about the length of the needle and they supported us with every step to ensure attention to detail as well as providing a smaller needle which was less painful and visible. Some didn’t even realise they had received it because it was so slight.

“We are very proud of all the measures we have taken. Some of the people we support really weren’t sure they would ever have a vaccine, due to the process, or being needle phobic and we are happy to say that all of those we support have received the vaccine because of the steps we put in place. We will continue with this to prepare for their second injection.”

Family member, Michelle Varian, spoke of her thanks to the Hollyrood team: “Many congratulations on getting all the residents vaccinated. We know this was no small task on your behalf and cannot tell you how thrilled we are to know our son has had his first jab. One small step on the long road to normality.”

As a Trust, we will continue to push for the Government to make vaccinations for people with severe, moderate and mild learning disabilities, more of a priority - so that we can protect all of those living in our services.

*Tragic data published by Mencap, showed that 80% of the deaths of people with a learning disability in England were COVID-19-related in the week ending 22nd January. This compares to 45% of all deaths in the general population relating to Covid, highlighting the significant increased risk faced by those with a learning disability.