Vaccine categories aren’t working for all disabilities


Grace has a high-level spinal cord injury. She explains the COVID-19 vaccine categories and how she thinks they're leaving disabled people behind.

We all know that the year 2020 is one that will not be forgotten. It brought us Covid-19 which impacted upon everyone’s lives.

It changed us emotionally, physically, financially, the list continues. It drained many of us and the after-effects of it are far from over. 

Yet, towards the end of the year, there was hope in the form of a vaccination, followed by another, then another. 

These vaccines are game-changers and offer light at the end of a long, draining, dark tunnel. But they also caused another issue, how to prioritise them? Who should get them first? The elderly? The young? Key workers? The differently abled? 

Grace McGowan in her wheelchair holding a basketball

The light at the end of the tunnel

These questions prompted research on a vast scale to identify the most vulnerable groups. The country was split into categories, with age and health as the major factors of categorisation. 

People in Group 4 were classified as the following:

  • All those 70 years of age and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals (not including those under 16 years of age).
  • People in Group 6 were classified as the following:
  • Adults aged 16 to 65 years in an at-risk group.

I have a high-level spinal cord injury (SCI) which means I am paralysed from the neck down. I am a tetra/quadriplegic, and my diaphragm is paralysed. This means I cannot cough properly and when I have a severe cold, I rely upon an assistance cough machine or my family to assist me with coughing. 

These specific characteristics of my injury made me automatically assume that I would fall into category 4 as a clinically, extremely vulnerable individual. This was because the government guidelines advised that the following would deem you clinically vulnerable: “People with severe respiratory conditions including all cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).” 

Being forgotten about

Alas, I was not categorised that way. I believe I was with the vast majority in Group 6. I am a social person and normally, being included in such a large group would suit me fine, but not this time. Whilst typing this article and putting it into words, it seems ridiculous to write that a paralysed diaphragm does not mean an individual suffers from a severe respiratory disease

I was not the only one shocked by this. Others with similar disabilities were in shock at the system and felt neglected and forgotten about. This, after a year of limited contact and barely any socialisation, was an added stress that no one needs. Specialist charities and organisations started appealing to the government and advocated for a change in the categorisation to include disabled people in one of the first roll out of vaccination groups. 

Personally, I do not understand, if the categories are based upon that chosen criteria, why were some of us, in fact a large amount of us, forgotten about? Why was our disability not thought about?

It is estimated someone in the UK is diagnosed with an SCI every four hours. In a world where we are sadly, still fighting for disability rights, I feel we have been let down.

Being remembered during a global pandemic where we are dependent upon those in power to guide us more so than at any other time, we should feel confident and secure that our care and lives are being thought of. Disappointingly, I think we still have a long way to go and a lot to learn.