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How we are feeding into Government plans for the coronavirus vaccine rollout

The Government says the first doses of the coronavirus vaccine will begin to be distributed soon. We’ve been highlighting issues it needs to consider to make the roll-out work for blind and partially sighted people.

Communication campaigns

Too often, we’ve experienced mass communication campaigns – about Brexit, or the initial coronavirus lockdown – which have distributed crucial information in inaccessible ways. That’s in spite of legal protections for accessible formats.

We’ve told the Cabinet Office public information about any vaccination programme should be made available in accessible formats, such as large print, email, audio CD and braille, at the same time standard print letters are sent out to the general public.

Any correspondence about appointments or any information about possible side effects, or what to do if you start feeling ill, including leaflets given out on the day of vaccination, also need to be provided in accessible formats. We’ve suggested that when planning communications, they should use data on the communications preferences of blind and partially sighted people which is held by the NHS because of the Accessible Information Standard (AIS).

Getting this right will mean blind and partially sighted people can access this important information and contribute to the success of a vaccination programme. It’s not acceptable to assume a person with sight loss can rely on a sighted person to read out information, and it shouldn’t be up to individuals to seek out their required format. This right to receive accessible health information is protected by the NHS AIS and the Equality Act. 

Local authorities also hold registers of blind and partially sighted people in their local areas. We recommend these are used to contact people directly, to make sure they have received the relevant information, and are able to access the vaccine.

Vaccination venues

People need to be able to attend appointments to receive the vaccination. Navigating independently to new places can be difficult for many blind and partially sighted people, so we’ve made it clear venues for vaccination need to be accessible, and some people will be likely to need additional transport. 

We’ve highlighted how important it is that venues are set up correctly - with clear, contrasting signage in large print, and, when needed, there should be staff available to provide sighted guiding. Waiting areas will also need to be considered for guide dogs, and any sighted guide a person might bring with them. We’ve suggested they hold clinics in places people are familiar with like local GP surgeries, or health staff arrange visits to blind and partially sighted people’s homes if they request it, for example for those with caring responsibilities.

Priority lists for getting the vaccine

The Government has been sharing a priority list and provisional timetable for the initial vaccination programme. Largely, older adults are towards the top of the list, which will cover the majority of blind and partially sighted people.

However, we suggested that younger adults who are at high risk of severe illness from coronavirus should be prioritised for vaccination, along with older people. This would include people with diabetic retinopathy, who are at higher risk of requiring intensive care if they catch the virus.

We also raised the challenges working age blind and partially sighted people are experiencing with social distancing and the disproportionate effect this has had on day-to-day life, compared to other people. We shared statistics and polling on this from our World Upside Down campaign, and asked that they factor this impact into the thinking around prioritisation.