Vaccinating patient

Every week, the United States meets another COVID milestone, for example registering more COVID-19 cases in a single day than ever before in the early parts of January. With the hope of a new start at a new year, it seems clear that the coronavirus has also made a new year’s resolution to persevere with a vengeance and stick around and mutate. 

Many of us hold a sense of optimism around a miracle vaccine that could provide some gleaming hope for our communities. 

Yet, the actual implementation of vaccinations seems not only to be slow moving, but also to be overlooking populations in our society who should – but are not – recognized as a priority. One of these groups are people who have intellectual and developmental disability.  

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article, “COVID-19 Is Deadlier for People With Autism, Down Syndrome. Now Families Are Pushing Hard for Vaccines,” discussing studies that show, “People with such disorders, who account for one in 50 Americans, are on average more than 2½ times as likely to die from COVID-19 as the wider U.S. population.”

The question of ”why” is not definitive. Could it be attributed to the fact that people who have disabilities are more likely to also have multiple diagnoses that include high-risk COVID-19 disorders like heart disease, obesity, and diabetes?

Is this due to inadequate access to quality care because most adults who have disability rely on public health care for their medical insurance? Or is it because many of these individuals have difficulty expressing and communicating their symptoms of illness that makes it doubly hard for medical professionals to diagnose and treat them for COVID. 

I would argue that all of these are true. 

While local and state advocacy has been able to secure our direct care workers and family members of people with disability high priority in the line to get this much anticipated vaccine; surprisingly enough, the people who have disability with whom we work and support have not. In most instances, this vulnerable population has been grouped with the general population in the lower tiers of prioritization.

However, there are some exceptions. In Tennessee, public health administrators are “specifically making its entire intellectual development disorder population a priority, citing its own studies that the death rate for this group is 3½ times higher” than in the general population.

Regardless of the reason why people with disabilities have been consistently ignored and overlooked throughout this pandemic, it is something we have all too often seen firsthand in Maricopa County. 

Whether intentional or not; we have had to continue to advocate for our community members with disability and remind our local officials, representatives, and legislators that this population we are proud to serve are citizens and their constituents. 

They are struggling, and they need our support and consideration. I urge our officials to look at the numbers here in Arizona and follow suit with other states, such as Tennessee, to establish that vaccine allocation must be based equitably to include vulnerable populations.

 They deserve equal access to vital medical care to combat the statistic and increase their ability for survival after potential contraction of this virus. Citizens who have intellectual developmental disability must be moved forward in line to receive this vaccination.

Madison Blanton is CEO of One Step Beyond, Inc., a non-profit organization that provides comprehensive programs that empower adults who have intellectual disabilities. Information: osbi.org.

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