Jo Whiley has said she feels as though she is in a “terrible film with bad plot twists” following news that her vulnerable sister has tested positive for coronavirus.
The BBC Radio 2 DJ posted the news on social media after revealing she had been offered a Covid-19 vaccine before her younger sister, Frances, 53, who has learning disabilities and diabetes.
Whiley, 55, said she wanted to speak up for people like Frances who have been “overlooked”, adding: “People with learning difficulties are neglected.”
On Twitter, Whiley said of Frances, who has the rare Cri du Chat genetic syndrome: “Feel like I’m in a terrible film with bad plot twists.
“Late last night I got a call to say that Frances, my sister, had tested positive & has Covid.
“Our worst fears realised after keeping her safe for a year & with a vaccine so close… she’s OK so far… Everything crossed.”
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday morning, Whiley said the care home where Frances is a resident had suffered an outbreak of Covid-19 last week and the effect on her sister’s mental health had been “quite extreme”.
She said: “It is the stuff of nightmares at the moment. I feel like I am living through a nightmare.
“All weekend it has been awful – really, really difficult. It has been hard for my parents, it has been hard for everyone in the care home, and it continues.
“And then, ironically, I got a message to say I was due to have my vaccine before my sister who has got learning difficulties and underlying health conditions. Go figure.”
Frances has been unable to see her parents since the outbreak and become “very distressed”.
Whiley said she has, for the first time, refused to take calls from family members.
More than 15 million people in the UK have received their first dose of a Covid vaccine, just over two months since the first jab was administered.
The NHS initially targeted the top four priority groups, including people over the age of 70 and health and care staff, aiming to offer the jab to everyone in this group by mid-February.
Whiley said she does not know why has been called for her inoculation, but suggested it may be because she is classed as a carer for her sister.
“I fail to understand, to be honest with you,” she told the programme.
“Myself, my parents and the home have done everything we can to try and facilitate the vaccine coming in to the people who need it the most.
“She is in tier six but she also has quite bad diabetes, which in my understanding puts her in tier four because she has an underlying health condition, so I would have thought that she would have been vaccinated, but that hasn’t happened.
“And I suppose what I am doing is just wanting to speak up for people like Frances, people who live in her care home, who have been overlooked, because this happens so often.
“People with learning difficulties are neglected. They haven’t got a voice, they haven’t got anybody there. Just badgering everybody saying ‘What about me? Help me out here’.”
Whiley said her mind is “boggling” over why she has been called for her jab.
She added: “And I would give up my vaccine in a heartbeat if I could for my sister and any of the residents in her house to have their vaccine. It just does not feel right.”
Edel Harris, chief executive of learning disability charity Mencap, said: “It’s encouraging that the Government has reached the milestone of vaccinating the top four priority groups – but too many people with a learning disability are still waiting, despite being at a high risk of dying from the virus.
“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 six 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.”