Advocacy group wants disabled community to get vaccine sooner

COVID vaccine and disabilities

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - People with disabilities, and some advocacy groups who represent them, are raising concerns about when and how they will receive the vaccine.

“I can’t drive, I can’t even stand up,” said 70-year-old John Woods. “My wife is my caregiver.”

Woods is a Tucsonan who lives with muscular dystrophy and is bound to a wheelchair He is now eligible to receive the vaccine, not because he is disabled, but because of his age group. His next hurdle is finding a way to get to a vaccination site.

“Why they can’t arrange a mobile vaccine to go to people’s homes who otherwise can’t get out?” he said. “They say they’re going to do it but can’t tell me when or how.”

The Pima County Health Department said in a statement Wednesday: “We know numerous people with disabilities in all eligible priority groups been able to receive vaccine at the many points of distribution around Pima County since we began administering doses in December. All of the PODs offer some sort of assistance to people who need some help. For example the TCC has 20 wheelchairs available. However, we realize for some people with severe disabilities, who are at high risk due to medical conditions, or who are otherwise homebound, it’s not possible for them to travel to be vaccinated.

We are exploring ways to be more responsive to this group of people and are discussing this with the Health Department’s ethics committee to advise Dr. Cullen and Department leadership and we have several teams of Department staffers working every day to put in place systems to collect information about community members who need at-home vaccination. Collecting this information will help us deploy mobile vaccinators to the people who need it most in the near future.”

In Pima County, adults with High-Risk Medical Conditions fall in Phase 1-C. In many Arizona counties, including Pima, only disabled people living in congregate settings have gotten the vaccine.

“About 90% live with family members or live on their own. They are at a heightened risk for being exposed to COVID and as such should be included in these earlier priority groups,” said John Meyers, the executive director for the ARC of Arizona.

The organization represents people with cognitive disabilities. Meyers said these individuals should be put at the top of the vaccination list.

“We would like to see a statewide adoption of individuals, who are receiving long-term care services through the state of Arizona, and their caregivers being made eligible to get the vaccine immediately,” he said.

Adults with disabilities are three times more likely to have underlying health conditions and at higher risk of severe COVID-19 compared to other adults, according to the CDC.

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