In early February, President Biden announced that by summer 2021 there will be enough vaccines for everyone in the U.S., and he has since moved this up to end of May. However, in mid-February, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida released an executive order stating that the COVID-19 vaccine will only be administered to long-term care facility residents and staff, persons 65 years of age and older, or health care personnel with direct patient contact.
The executive order concluded with this statement: “Hospital providers, however, also may vaccinate persons who they deem to be extremely vulnerable to COVID-19.”
As far as prioritizing individuals and adults with special needs, the CDC only listed Down Syndrome as “extremely vulnerable.” Individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities are three times more likely to have heart disease, stroke, diabetes or cancer. In addition, they are at a higher risk of contracting COVID because they are more likely to live in group homes or with caregivers over the age of 60, and they may engage in high-risk behaviors. It is important that any person living with any developmental or learning disorder be immediately included with the first-priority phase to ensure the safety of those with a high risk of infection.
There must be wider prioritization to vaccinate those with special needs. Disabilities brought on by those with special needs makes it more difficult for them to abide by CDC precautions against COVID-19. According to ExceptionalLives.org (a nonprofit that advocates with families that have children with special needs), examples of these difficulties are accessing a COVID testing center, receiving a COVID test, finding information on COVID prevention, wearing masks, maintaining social distance, and receiving medical care if infected.
Even those not suffering from a disability have a hard-enough time getting the access to the resources mentioned above. Imagine the struggles of someone who can’t stand in line to receive a test or undergo a COVID test without special care.
Those with a qualifying disability include developmental, learning, ADD, ADHD, autism, intellectual, conduct, cerebral palsy, and vision and hearing impairment. People living with these disorders are at much higher risk of infection and face a more difficult road to recovery than non-disabled people. For example, Public Health England has said, “the registered COVID-19 death rate for people with learning disabilities in England is more than four times higher than the general population.”
The entire idea around vaccinating the “higher risk” persons first is to flatten the curve of infection of the most vulnerable, especially those who have a high percentage of not surviving if contracted. Once the people who can benefit from the vaccine the most have received it, we can then begin to administer the vaccine at a more open rate and would allow for the safety of everyone as logically as possible.
Success of vaccinating those with special needs will greatly reduce the infection and death rate. Priority vaccinations will also enable the following activities:
- Return more quickly to in-person learning and employment
- Access critical therapies and medical care in-person
- Reconnect with family members and friends and reduce social isolation (all, according to ExceptionalLives.org).
Not only will early vaccination of the disabled promote their health, but it will allow them to return to their work, learning and living environment. Living without a disability in the current COVID era is stressful enough, the advantages of receiving the vaccine early will allow for an easy and earlier return to a somewhat normal lifestyle.
About the author: Sharon Alexander is the CEO of Unicorn Children’s Foundation, a Palm Beach-based organization that advocates for individuals with special needs by providing community resources to families with special needs individuals.