Jo Whiley: Vulnerable sister offered jab after she was fighting for her life

The broadcaster has expressed frustration that she was offered the vaccine before her sister.

Jo Whiley has said it “couldn’t be crueller” that her sister, who has learning difficulties and diabetes, was offered the vaccine after she was already “fighting for her life” with Covid.

The broadcaster, 55, said it has been “the worst week of our lives” after her sister, Frances, 53, had become very ill since testing positive following an outbreak at her care home in Northamptonshire, and it has been difficult to treat her because of her complex needs.

Whiley has previously questioned why she was offered the vaccine before her sister, who has the rare Cri du Chat genetic syndrome.

She told BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show: “I have no idea why I was offered the vaccine and my sister wasn’t; it felt like the cruellest twist in the world because I’ve been asking for her, wanting for her to have her vaccine for a year, to be honest with you, to be protected.

“Then, for me to suddenly get a call to say that I’ve got the vaccine, it just felt hideously unfair and she was actually called in for her vaccine last night, my mum got a message to say that she could get vaccinated, but it’s too late, she’s fighting for her life in hospital.

“It couldn’t be crueller.”

She added: “It’s been the worst week of our lives, without a shadow of a doubt.

“Twenty-four hours ago we were talking palliative care and yesterday she rallied round and we are seeing her oxygen levels rise, so at the moment we have got hope.

“Twenty-four hours ago we didn’t have any hope at all, so she is an amazing fighter, she always has been a great fighter and I’m just hoping that her spirit gets her through.”

Whiley told Marr it has been “absolutely awful” and her parents have not slept “for days”, but fortunately have been allowed to be with Frances in hospital.

She said: “The idea of Frances having to do this on her own is unthinkable and also actually people couldn’t cope with Frances.

“When she was admitted to hospital she was so terrified that she actually rampaged through the hospital and people couldn’t contain her and security guards had to be involved, they had to restrain her.

“The fact that my mum was there and was able to talk her down and to be there with her and to try and give her oxygen was crucial.”

Whiley said it is particularly difficult to treat people with complex needs because they often do not understand what is going on and cannot communicate.

She said Frances was so frightened that she would not allow medical staff to give her oxygen, adding: “That is why her oxygen levels plummeted, that is why she ended up fighting for her life, because you couldn’t do the most basic simple thing that you would do to try and get somebody through Covid, and we were at our wits’ end.”

She continued: “The medical professionals, who were doing an amazing job, just aren’t equipped because it’s all so new, they don’t know how people with a learning disability are going to react in this situation, which is why it makes such sense to just get them vaccinated as quickly as you possibly can.

“Take away that problem, take away the burden on the NHS, just stop these people coming into hospital, who are absolutely petrified, quite often they can’t communicate.

“They are terrified, they don’t know what is going on, they have no comprehension of what Covid is and what is happening to them, and they are there bewildered in a hospital.

“Just don’t put them through that, stop everybody having to go through that whole experience, just keep them safe and protect these people because they are so precious, they are so vulnerable, and we should have looked after them a long time ago.

“We should have been doing more for these people who have no way of helping themselves, they are just wholly reliant on us.”

Asked about Whiley’s situation on the show, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “My heart goes out to Jo and to her sister and her whole family.”

He added it was “such a difficult situation”.

Edel Harris, chief executive of the learning disability charity Mencap, said: “People with a learning disability are six times more likely to die from Covid-19 than the rest of the population, yet those with a mild or moderate learning disability aren’t prioritised at all.

“We urge the Government to include everyone with a learning disability in group 6 urgently – it is not too late.

“It’s unacceptable that, within a group of people hit so hard by the pandemic, and who even before Covid died on average over 20 years younger than the general population, many are left feeling scared and wondering why they have been left out.

“The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and Government must act now to help save the lives of some of society’s most vulnerable people by urgently prioritising all people with a learning disability for the vaccine.”

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