Man with learning disability ‘that bit closer to being safe again’ after jab

Luke Powell, PA

A man with a learning disability is urging others to have their Covid-19 vaccine amid concerns they may be “anxious” about receiving it.

Gavin Howcroft, who has global development delay, said he feels “closer to being safe again” after receiving the jab at a mass vaccination centre in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, on Tuesday.

Now, the 30-year-old, from St Albans, is calling for others in the clinically vulnerable group to put their fears aside and get a jab.

It came as a report by Public Health England in November found that people with learning disabilities are up to six times more likely to die with coronavirus.

Mr Howcroft, who was given his first dose at the Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust-run (HCT) Robertson House, told the PA news agency: “I feel really happy that I’ve had it done, I feel like I’m on that direction of never having to worry about Covid-19 again.

“My message (to people with learning difficulties) is ‘I know your worries and I know your anxieties, but having this vaccine is very important’.

“It will definitely make you feel a lot more relieved once you’ve had it, and there’s nothing at all to be worried or scared about.

“If anything, you come away thinking ‘Wow, I’m just that bit closer to being safe again’, so please have it done.”

Mr Howcroft, whose condition has left him with communication difficulties, admitted he has a “needle phobia” and was “nervous” about receiving the jab.

But he said staff had given him more time to adjust to his surroundings and had reassured him throughout the process.

Coronavirus – Tue Feb 9 2020
Gavin Howcroft (left) had his jab at the Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust-run (HCT) Robertson House in Stevenage (Yui Mok/PA)

“I didn’t feel hardly anything. I’ve had other injections before and they have been a bit painful, but with that one, I didn’t feel a thing,” he said.

After receiving the vaccine, Mr Howcroft, who is employed by Hertfordshire County Council as a patient advocate and is classed as a frontline worker, gave a thumbs-up.

Mr Howcroft said that, while the hustle and bustle of vaccination centres could be a “lot to take in” for someone with learning difficulties, extra measures had been put in place to support him.

An average of 800 people per day have been vaccinated at the centre since it opened to the public on January 11.

Dr Una Monaghan, clinical lead for improving learning disability services at HCT, who was with Mr Howcroft throughout the process, said: “The biggest thing I would say is that you will be given time – time to understand what is happening, and people will talk to you and will listen to what you need.

“We have set up quiet spaces so that anyone who needs that additional support, away from the bustle, has that.”

Coronavirus – Tue Feb 9 2020
Gavin Howcroft said staff had given him more time to adjust to his surroundings and had reassured him throughout the process (Yui Mok/PA)

Dr Monaghan urged people with learning difficulties to get the vaccine, but only once they have been contacted by the NHS about it.

She said: “We want you to have this vaccine because it’s going to make such a difference for you, so please be assured that every accommodation will be put in place to make sure you have a good time when you come to get it.”

A study by Public Health England found that 451 per 100,000 people registered with a learning disability had died with Covid-19 between March 21 and June 5 – a death rate 4.1 times higher than in the general population.

But researchers estimate that the real rate could be as high as 692 per 100,000 – 6.3 times higher.

People with learning disabilities are more likely to have other physical health problems such as obesity and diabetes, the report said.

It added that they are also likely to have difficulty recognising symptoms of coronavirus, or following government advice about getting tested.

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