Advocates call for people with developmental disabilities to be some of first to get COVID-19 vaccine

Updated: Dec. 7, 2020 at 7:04 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) -Arizona is finishing up the details on who will be getting the vaccine first, but advocacy groups from working to get their populations higher on the list.

“We always seem to be the forgotten faces,” said Shannon McCracken, vice president for government relations at the American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR).

ANCOR is advocating for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities to be high on the vaccine priority list. Several studies show people with disabilities are two-to-three times more likely to die of COVID-19. People with down syndrome are 10 times more likely to die.

“If that diagnosis of intellectual or developmental disabilities puts you at higher risk of death, then you absolutely should have access to a vaccine that will save your life,” said McCracken.

The group sent a letter to all 50 state governors, including to governor Doug Ducey on Thursday, asking for this population to be in the first vaccination round. The letter reads in part, “We urge all governors to explicitly classify DSPs as health care workers and people with I/DD living in Intermediate Care Facilities (ICFs), group homes, and other congregate settings as living in an LTC facility.” It goes on to read, “…ANCOR has also advocated that people with I/DD be explicitly included in the top priority tier to receive the vaccine because mounting research shows particularly significant risks facing this group.”

In October, Arizona’s draft vaccine plan had an estimated 946,481 people with disabilities in group two. However, at a press conference last week, ADHS director, Dr. Cara Christ released a new vaccine distribution priority list. Those in the first distribution category (1-A) include healthcare workers, skilled nursing facility residents, those living in assisted living facilities, HUD senior living and DES group homes for individuals with developmental disabilities and ICF-IIDs and their staff. ADHS estimates that healthcare practitioners and technical occupations, alone, in the 1-A group make up about 184,000 people in the state. People with developmental disabilities, DES group homes and staff are estimated to be about 3,300 people in the state.

The Arizona Center for Disability Law is also drafting a letter in support of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and their caretakers, to be prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine. They said they want a record of them having prioritization.

“It’s difficult because you have such small numbers of vaccine rolling in, but you have so many people, so many individuals to distribute them, so…from a bio ethical kind of perspective it’s about doing the least amount of harm,” said Sey In, attorney with the ACDL.

They plan to send their letter to Dr. Cara Christ mid-week detailing why this population should be in the first group to get the vaccine.

“There were only 12 states that specifically identified people with disabilities,” said McCracken.

The October draft vaccination distribution plan from ADHS also had people attending universities in the second priority group. It’s unclear if they still are.

“I would like to see us mandate that we all get this vaccine in order to come on campus, now that has to be with some caveats, have to get approval with our attorneys,” said Dr. Robert Robbins, president of UArizona.

The governor did prioritize teachers, putting them in the 1-b category according to the list released by Dr. Christ at the press conference, but it’s unclear if that could include university professors and researchers. The health department and governor’s office could not provide an answer today.

“Here we’ve also talked about what about our scientists …who are working with virus everyday in their laboratories so there are exceptions that we have to look at because people have unique risk because they’re risking themselves to serve us,” said Dr. Richard Carmona, UArizona reentry task force.

Healthcare providers are workers are first on the list to get the vaccine. Arizona expects the first doses to be here around mid-December.

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