The latest phase of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout has begun, with those aged 16–65 years and ‘at higher clinical risk’ being invited for their vaccine.
The group includes people with severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or any mental illness that causes severe functional impairment.
The latest phase was announced in a letter published last week by NHS England Medical Director for Primary Care, Dr Nikita Kanani, and Director of Primary Care, Ed Walker.
The letter instructs local vaccination sites to focus their efforts on inviting so-called 'cohort six' patients for their vaccine, which "includes a wider group of people at higher clinical risk."
The letter also highlighted the need for vaccinations in care homes for people with learning disabilities or mental health problems, or hostel accommodation for the homeless due to them being unable to travel to vaccination sites.
Various experts and medical bodies had previously expressed concerns over the lack of vaccination guidance for people that fall into the cohort six category.
In an opinion piece for the British Medical Journal, a group of mental health clinicians stressed the need to prioritise those with mental health difficulties.
"Extra support will be needed [for people with severe mental illness] as this group has a low uptake of preventative healthcare programmes, such as the influenza vaccine," said the authors.
Read more: Almost half of ICU staff are likely dealing with mental health issues as a result of the pandemic
They stressed the increased likelihood of COVID-19 infection and mortality rates, resulting from higher rates of cardiovascular and respiratory disease, diabetes and obesity, socioeconomic deprivation, homelessness, and institutionalisation associated with mental illness.
"Without more specific guidance and prioritisation, the most vulnerable mental health patients may simply get left behind."
New figures from Public Health England support their concerns, showing that those with learning disabilities are six times more likely to die from the virus than the general population.
Members of the public who fall into cohort six began receiving letters regarding their COVID vaccine from the 15th of February.
People diagnosed with a mental health issue by their GP will be invited to have the vaccine automatically, however, mental health charity Rethink Mental Illness says that those diagnosed with a type of mental illness that does not fall into cohort six, but still causes you severe functional impairment, should contact their GP and suggest to be invited to receive the vaccine with this cohort.
Similar advice is given to unpaid carers of severely mentally ill people, who are advised to contact their GP and inform them of their status as the NHS will offer some unpaid carers priority vaccinations.
Written by Alice Lynes
News reporter for Talking Mental Health
Twitter & Instagram: @alicelynes