Should VIP be on the priority list for the COVID-19 Vaccination
It is fair to state how there has been unprecedented efforts since the middle of 2020 to slow the spread of the virus, given the fact that this is a completely new phenomenon for which a vaccine must be developed and tested from scratch. Nevertheless, thanks to the remarkable global cooperation, several pharmaceutical companies have developed a vaccine against COVID-19 in a significant time while still maintaining thorough regulatory efforts.
While many of us are beginning to come to terms with this new way of living, which has been brought on by this pandemic; those with visual impairments have remained vocal on how social changes have left them feeling completely distressed, and require further attention in ensuring a more suitable continuation with life. With the virus remaining a serious threat alongside the discovery of novel variants, governments have urged everyone to carry on taking all the necessary precautions such as physical distancing and limiting public gathering.
Visual impairment and the Covid 19 vaccine
Granted how the Covid-19 vaccination is now underway, abiding with clinical regulations controlled by the NHS. Various blind and partially sighted people will take part at every stage of the priority list depending on age and other health conditions. However, having a visual impairment has not been deemed as an automatic stipulation for a person to become a priority in receiving the vaccine.
We should therefore consider what the barriers are to visually impaired people (VIP) maintaining their independence during the pandemic – such as facilitating their ability in receiving the Covid-19 vaccination.
Whilst there are arguments both for and against the COVID-19 vaccination. Discussion has arisen on whether VIP should be on the government's priority list for receiving the vaccine. Social distancing creates different challenges for the visually impaired, depending on the level of their sight loss. The totally blind are completely reliant on their caning and auditory skills to maneuver in the current environment. A recent report carried out by Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) stated how two-thirds of visually impaired individuals have felt less independent since the start of the lockdown. Such turn of events could have a negative impact on their mental health. VIPs generally experience loneliness and depression at higher levels than the general population.
Here are some statements shared by the BBC on VIPs experiences living in Essex during the pandemic:
67-year-old Graham Routledge, said he was a very social person and that it was "hard to not be able to meet other people".
Additionally, 59-year-old Pamela Little added to the conversion stating how "All of the signs and new regulations in place make it very difficult, (…) The independence that I had strived to maintain since I lost my sight has been getting worse and worse".
Hence, being amongst the priority groups for the vaccination could be an imperative call to action in supporting them to counteract these issues.
NHS have addressed this matter by issuing research into how alternatively they can facilitate the experience and accessibility for VIP in getting a home test for the Covid virus. The aim of the research is to understand how the home testing experience could potentially be improved to better serve the needs of people who are blind or partially sighted, or those with sight loss. One feasible option could be mobile testing vans, that can pay a visit to VIP houses where they can carry out controlled vaccination procedures. If a VIP tests positive, the local medics will then be able to transport them back to health centers where all the required measures will be in-placed.
How can Travel Hands work closely with Publicly-funded healthcare centers?
Travelling independently to new places can be difficult for many blind and partially sighted people, therefore, we believe our exciting service called Travel Hands, which pairs a VIP with registered and verified volunteers could work closely with sector partners to produce guidance for the NHS on making the vaccine rollout as accessible as possible for blind and partially sighted people.
We are proposing that travel hands have the capability to play a worthy partner in guiding VIP from their homes to health centers in getting vaccinated and accompanying them back to their home. Likewise, VIP World will carry out thorough checkups on VIP following their vaccination in monitoring any potential side effects that may arise through the Travel Hands app.
Travel Hands Journey:
- Ensuring information sent to a visually impaired person is available in an accessible manner
- Providing clear information on the location of the vaccine center, such as public transport options.
- Ensuring volunteers are trained to provide support to people with sight loss, such as providing verbal or sighted guiding where necessary.
- Volunteers are asked to take all the necessary health precautions. Such as, wearing masks all the time and gloves to avoid human contact as much as possible.
- Travel Hands records and saves the journey itineraries of the VIP and the volunteer. When the time of travel is near, Travel Hands matches the VIP and volunteer, coordinates between them, and shares the journey details. We give a secret code word for every meet up to our volunteer and VIP, so they match correctly.
- On their way, they may encounter roadblocks, traffic signals and congestive roads. The volunteer helps the VIP to navigate through the roads safely.
- Once the VIP has successfully completed their vaccination. Volunteers will guide the VIP back to their homes and inform the Travel Hands team that he/she has successfully completed their journey. VIP also confirm through text/call as well.
- VIP and volunteers share their feedback about the journey, about their accomplice and they rate the experience - 3 stars rating.
Promoting the Beyond Sight Loss petition:
A charitable organization by the name of Beyond Sight Loss, have sparked the theme behind #SafeToHelp a petition requesting to prioritize VIP amongst the groups to be offered the vaccine. Significantly, this will facilitate safety for VIP to be guided when requesting for mobility assistance. Companies and charities associated with visual impairment must share this petition to make sure that VIP can be vaccinated as soon as possible, as this could help regain a sense of independence for VIP. Organizations should be eager to get involved with Travel Hands and the agenda of not only allowing VIP to be prioritized for the vaccine but also when VIP are invited to get the vaccine they are able to travel safely to their destination.