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Are mental health conditions a priority for the vaccine?

During the series of lockdowns, people of all ages have suffered with isolation, loneliness, low mood and anxiety. Access to activities and communities which may have boosted mental health are prevented (friends, loved ones, sports activities, and the leisure industry) and it’s expected that more people will identify as having poor mental health or a mental health condition post-lockdown. Higher mental health rates will impact employment, welfare and the economy, so, are those with mental health conditions a priority for the vaccine?

First access to the vaccine varies wildly across the world. Some countries are offering older people the vaccine, others are beginning with the younger generation, like in Indonesia. In the United Kingdom, the rollout of the vaccine began with the Over-80s and is descending through the age groups. For most countries, the vaccine is based on age. However, the vaccine is also offered to those classed as clinically extremely vulnerable. The government classes those with a mental health condition as a disability, if it is long-term (over twelve months) and affects your normal day to day activity – this can be a consequence of dementia, depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and schizophrenia. This is not an exhaustive list, for more information click here. During the pandemic, those with mental issues were largely not required to shield, but many of the groups classed as clinically extremely vulnerable have been shielding.

According to a document from Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre, the vaccine is predominately given based on age, those outside the age bracket can only receive the vaccine if they have an ‘underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality’. Those with mental health conditions are not classed in this group.

However, the impact of the lockdown on those with mental health conditions has been great, and they would be one of the groups who would benefit from returning to a sense of norm. Poor mental health is impacting society. The focus should move to these groups who are missed by the vaccine. A young person may not have an underlying physical illness but they are experiencing isolation, worry and fear. Social media and online classes have caused social anxiety and uncertainty. Speculation around vaccine passports implies that access to leisure and loved ones will not be allowed overnight, and those with mental health conditions in the younger categories may be penalised because they can’t receive the vaccine.

As more people get vaccinated and the rollout progresses, the requirements for being offered the vaccine have expanded. Those with severe mental health conditions are being encouraged to get the vaccine for more information click here.

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