Covid: Unpaid carers 'should be prioritised for vaccine'

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'Vaccinate unpaid carers alongside NHS workers'

Unpaid carers should have the Covid-19 vaccine at the same time as health and social care workers, a charity said.

Carers Wales warned 680,000 carers in Wales would be "really disappointed" not to be among those prioritised for the approved Pfizer/BioNTech jab.

It wants Wales to follow Scotland in prioritising unpaid carers for the jab.

The Welsh Government said the Joint Committee on Vaccine and Immunisation (JCVI) would "probably" announce an acceleration of vaccines for carers.

The UK became the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for widespread use on Wednesday.

The jab offers up to 95% protection against Covid-19 illness and the Welsh Government hopes the first vaccines will be given within seven to 14 days.

Priority groups include health and social care workers and over-80s while everyone aged over 50 will be offered the vaccine in the coming months.

Beth Evans, policy manager for Carers Wales, said unpaid carers felt undervalued and under-recognised, despite having "sacrificed so much" to keep loved ones safe.

She said the charity's research showed unpaid carers saved the NHS and statutory services £33m every day in Wales.

"Within all Welsh Government policies and everything else, [it says] carers should be treated on an equal basis and actually respected," Ms Evans added.

"As an organisation, we're really disappointed that carers are not at the top of the first tranche of the Covid vaccines coming out."

She said receiving the vaccine would enable carers to take a break from their roles without the fear of transmitting the disease.

'Computer says no'

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Will unpaid carers such as Matthew Williams be among the first for the vaccine?

Matthew and Lisa Williams are full-time carers in Swansea for their nine-year-old son Macsen who has a rare genetic disorder and suffers multiple daily seizures.

Mr Williams, 39, has a heart condition which he thinks might mean he meets the criteria for vaccination as a clinically vulnerable person.

But he fears his wife might not get it until the vaccine is rolled out to the wider population.

"We feel we're a group that's missing completely from the whole schedule of who will have this and when," he said.

Media caption,
How will the vaccine work and who gets it first?

"They're not giving the vaccine to children - understandably. But to keep Macsen safe, everyone around him needs to be vaccinated - us, carers, everyone in school - and that would enable him to go back to school and some kind of normal life.

"But we don't know if there are any plans for vaccinating home carers like us at the moment.

"We fear it'll be a case of 'computer says no, you don't fit the criteria'."

Macsen attends Ysgol Crug Glas special school in Swansea, but has not been since February due to his vulnerability.

"Macs loves school but he's missed so much of it," said Mr Williams.

"Anything about carers always seems to relate to adult carers - they don't consider carers of children and how it impacts on us.

"What are their plans for parents of vulnerable children who won't themselves be vaccinated?

"We're not saying we should be the first priority - it's right that they look at older people and care homes first - but we don't think we should be last."

Dr Gill Richardson, chairwoman of the Welsh Government's Covid-19 vaccine programme board, said unpaid carers were extremely important not just to the people they care for, but society in general.

"This is something the JCVI is acutely aware of and probably they'll be making announcements about carers and about them being accelerated so they wouldn't have to wait for their particular age group to be called.

"So expect further announcements on that and others."