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FLU: People with a learning disability are at greater risk of developing serious illness

Posted in News

People who have a learning disability can be more susceptible to the effects of flu and are therefore at increased risk of developing complications such as bronchitis or pneumonia.

As the NHS emerges from the Covid pandemic, anyone with a learning disability is encouraged to get their free vaccination and annual health check to help stay well this winter.

Carers of anyone with a learning disability are also entitled to the free vaccination. All carers (family member or support worker) are urged to ensure they are registered at their local GP practice as a carer of someone with a learning disability. Individuals should also be on their GP Learning Disability Register to access the very best care.

Now is the time that GP practices and community pharmacies are carrying out vaccinations for those at risk.

The vaccine offers the best level of protection from the flu virus, and it’s important to have the vaccine every year, especially as the flu virus strain changes every year.

Anyone who is defined as being in an ‘at risk’ group should contact their surgery and arrange an appointment to have the vaccine.

Having the vaccine sooner provides the individual with protection over a longer period of time; it also helps reduce the chances of spreading the virus to family and friends.

Julian Povey, Joint Chair of Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin CCGs, said: “Flu is a very unpleasant illness. The symptoms can be miserable for many of us, but it can lead to more serious complications, those who fall within certain clinical ‘at risk’ groups are more likely to experience those complications. People with a learning disability are more likely to fall into one of the at risk groups and therefore can be more susceptible to develop more serious complications like pneumonia. Respiratory conditions remain the most significant causes of premature mortality for people with a learning disability where deaths have been reviewed as part of the Learning Disabilities Mortality Review programme.

“I’d urge those with a learning disability to make sure they have the vaccination as soon as possible. They should also ask to have their Annual Health Check. Carers of anyone with a learning disability should also get the free vaccine from their GP surgery or community pharmacy.”


Notes to editors:

  1. NHS Video demonstrates the ease with which a person with a learning disability can have the flu vaccination: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYgH181Xijs 
  2. The flu vaccine is also free for patients in the following at risk groups:
  • Those aged 65 years or over (including those becoming age 65 years by 31 March 2021)
  • Those aged from 6 months to less than 65 years of age with a serious medical condition such as:
  • Chronic (long term) respiratory disease, such as severe asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or bronchitis.
  • Chronic heart disease – (such as heart failure).
  • Chronic kidney disease (at stages three, four or five).
  • Chronic liver disease.
  • Chronic neurological disease such as Parkinson’s disease or motor neurone disease
  • Diabetes
  • Splenic dysfunction
  • Reduced immune system due to disease (such as HIV/AIDS) or treatment (such as cancer treatment)
  • Morbidly obese (defined as BMI of 40 and above)
  • All pregnant women (including those women who become pregnant during the flu season)
  • All children aged 2 and 3 years 10 Developed by the Learning Disability & Autism Programme Team – NHS England & Improvement, South West
  • All children in school years R through to year 5
  • People living in long-stay residential care homes, or other long-stay care facilities where rapid spread is likely to follow the introduction of infection and cause high morbidity and mortality.
  • People who are in receipt of a carer’s allowance, or those who are the main carer of an older or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if the carer falls ill
  • Consideration should also be given to the vaccination of household contacts of immunocompromised individuals, specifically individuals who expect to share living accommodation on most days over the winter and therefore for whom continuing close contact is unavoidable

      3. Access full details about the LeDeR programme. Notably bacterial pneumonia was stated as a cause of death for 24% of adults and 20% of children whose deaths were notified in 2019/20, with aspiration pneumonia cited in a    further 17% of adult and 3% of children’s deaths. In total, these respiratory conditions accounted for 2,162 deaths of people with a learning disability.