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Prioritizing COVID-19 vaccines for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities

The world is currently experiencing a global health challenge brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Studies have shown that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are three times more likely to die of COVID-19 compared to people without these conditions.  Currently there are three companies that have created a vaccine that will help guard people against contracting the disease. As these vaccines become available to the public, there needs to be conversations around determining the priority for the vaccine’s access since the distribution will take months to reach the majority of the population.   Who should get the vaccine first? This is the critical question in the minds of state governments putting together distribution plans.

People with Intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) must be considered for priority access to the vaccine. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have both articulated the increased risk of contracting COVID-19 for people with disabilities. People with I/DD have risks that other populations do not. For example, many people with I/DD have limited mobility or cannot avoid coming into close contact with others, such as direct service providers who help with daily living activities. Other people with I/DD are at greater risk because they have trouble understanding information or practicing preventive measures or are not able to communicate their symptoms. Another study found that people with chromosomal disorders are four times more likely than others to be hospitalized due to COVID-19, and they face a 10 times greater risk of dying from the virus. COVID-19 has also shown that living in congregate settings, such as intermediate care facilities and group homes, leads to an increased risk of contracting the disease. Unfortunately, thousands of people with I/DD who are on waitlists to leave these congregate settings continue to be at risk.

One of the most important methods of protecting our community while exposed to the pandemic is through the vaccine. Getting vaccinated can help prevent people from getting sick with COVID-19. Even people who have gotten sick with COVID-19 need the vaccine because re-infection with COVID-19 is still possible. Advocates need to insist that state governments inform people with I/DD in plain language on vaccine effectiveness and dispel myths that might keep people with I/DD from coming forward to receive the vaccine. Unfortunately, there is a lot of false information on the internet about the vaccine. For example, advocates need to let people know that vaccines will not give you COVID-19. Be armed with facts about the vaccine by reading information from the CDC.

Prioritizing people with I/DD in vaccine distribution and providing factual information about the vaccines’ effectiveness is the best way to stop the spread of the virus, while helping the people who are most vulnerable in contracting the virus.  Don’t forget to wear your mask.