People with disabilities need equity in vaccines

People with disabilities need equity in vaccines

by Joan Willshire

Where are the COVID-19 vaccinations for people with disabilities living in the community?

I continually see more and more articles being written with disturbing headlines asking why people with disabilities aren’t in the front of the line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. That is especially concerning since one in four adults live with a disability according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Let me be clear on the population I am speaking about. These are people with disabilities who are living in the community of their choice independently, not living in institutions. I need to point out that there is irony here as for the last 20 years states have worked very hard to get people out of institutional settings and into the community of their choice. This was done through the 1999 U.S. Supreme Court ruling of Olmstead versus L.C.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has been doing a fantastic job during this pandemic of COVID-19. However, with the vaccine rollout there are some concerns about prioritization of the vaccine distribution. The state of Minnesota is following the CDC guidelines as are most states in the nation in regard to the prioritization of who will get the COVID-19 vaccine first. The state is also now having conversations about when children might be able to get vaccinated.

How many more groups of people get to go in front of the line before people with disabilities who are living outside of institutions and live in the community get the vaccination? I know we all want to get vaccinated to end the COVID-19 pandemic, but a plan must be created now for this sector of the population.

People with disabilities are more at risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus as well as dying from the disease. Individuals with developmental disabilities or intellectual disabilities are even more at risk than other people with disabilities of getting seriously ill and dying from the COVID-19 virus.

As a person with a chronic medical condition I have been asked constantly if I have received the vaccination for COVID-19 yet by relatives, friends, and even my physicians I see. My response is NO! They are all utterly amazed. I have been living with a chronic autoimmune disease for decades and have many underlining comorbidity issues as a result. As a result I am now at greater risk than most people are, even though I am a healthy and active working individual.

We do understand that the aging community has been hit extremely hard with this virus. But if you look at the issues that seniors encounter they literally mirror the issues of people with disabilities have.

There has been a lot of discussion regarding equity and diversity regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. Don’t get me wrong – this is something we must be doing. What we also must be doing is including people with disabilities in this conversation too. That is not happening. We need to remember that nearly 25 percent of the population has a disability and we need to be included in the equity and diversity discussion as well. We are the only minority group that you can become a member of at any point in one’s life. MDH has forged a new model of community partnership certainly help in the area of diversity equity.

I have been told to contact my healthcare provider in regard to COVID-19 vaccination availability. And when I ask them the status of COVID-19 vaccinations I they have no idea when a vaccine will be coming to them. So again we are forced to fall in line with a majority of the population that does not have any comorbidities issues whatsoever. This is not only wrong but is also deadly for a person like me with a disability.

The new vaccination connector that was just rolled out by MDH is only a step in the right direction for everyone to know where they are in line to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. The list of medical conditions that was given was certainly in adequate in regard to listing various medical conditions. But the bottom line it’s a start to get us all ready to receive the vaccine.
There is still time to move up people with disabilities who are not living in institutions but in a community setting on the COVID-19 vaccination list. But with the virus mutating that time is running shorter. The pandemic is far from over and it’s time to demand that people with disabilities get moved up on the list along with the seniors.

Joan Willshire is president of Willshire Consulting LLC, a company that focuses on disability/inclusion and how people with disabilities can safely return to work after COVID-19. Joan most recently was the executive director of the Minnesota Council on Disability.