By this measure, Minnesota will not be doing so properly in deciding who will get a vaccine – Twin Cities
The daily bombardment of numbers and statistics about Covid-19 – the hospital stays, the deaths, the number of people who received the first or second dose of the vaccine – made me feel like a Londoner during the Blitz. I just want to hide in my basement bomb shelter with my knitting and one more episode of everything Netflix has to offer. I understand the impetus behind refuge that we are trying to find in numbers: if we can measure any aspect of this confusing and devastating virus, maybe we can take control of it.
But when I try to digest this daily flood of numbers, I keep hearing the saying that is often wrongly attributed to Gandhi: “A civilization is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”
With this measure, Minnesota is not doing so well. People with disabilities have dramatically more adverse effects from the pandemic than other populations.
Of course, some physical disabilities can be medical risk factors. Equally worrying, however, is the research that consistently shows that people with intellectual disabilities are significantly more likely to die of Covid-19 than others – some studies show up to ten times more likely to die. Research backing these findings has led the CDC to add a category of intellectual disabilities – Down syndrome – to the list of underlying conditions that increase the risk of serious illness from the Covid virus. Some states, such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Texas, are following the CDC’s lead and including people with Down syndrome or developmental disabilities in general among those currently eligible for Covid vaccinations. An online petition urging Governor Walz to follow the science and enroll Minnesotans with Down syndrome in Phase 1b of the vaccination schedule has garnered nearly 10,000 signatures.
People with disabilities are also suffering disproportionately from the effects of the pandemic in other ways. Online education has been a challenge for all school age children, but children with disabilities are really left behind. It is proving almost impossible for schools to provide the personalized services and support required for the education of children with disabilities, regardless of how dedicated and creative the special education teachers and helpers may be. The Department of Education’s Civil Rights Office has launched investigations in a number of states based on complaints from parents that these violations violated the legal obligations of the Disability Education Act.
Adults with disabilities also suffer. While laws such as the Disabled Americans Act demonstrate our commitment to helping people with disabilities live independent lives that are fully integrated into our communities, for many people with disabilities this is not the reality. Many of them rely on the support of carers of various kinds to achieve a level of independence, and many live in group homes or with families.
Strict quarantine to protect yourself is not an option when you rely on the physical support of others to control life. Many adults with intellectual disabilities rely on the support of services provided in daytime programs for the support they need to find work in the community, as well as social interactions and meaningful relationships. These programs were closed because of the pandemic; Some had to close permanently due to a lack of funding. Just like in schools, the dedication and creativity of the staff on some of these programs have resulted in amazing online opportunities. However, some people with disabilities cannot access online programs, and nothing on the internet can replicate the lost jobs or restore the programs that are permanently closed.
States have flexibility in setting their priorities for vaccination. Other states have made it a high priority to vaccinate people with underlying health conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to the most serious consequences of Covid-19. Minnesota is going in a different direction, prioritizing class teachers and anyone over 65 (including those who are in very good health). Minnesota has begun vaccinating paid caregivers (again, including those who are in very good health) of people with disabilities as health workers. As the Minnesota Disability Law Center noted in a February 9 letter to MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm, “It is logically and ethically inconsistent to recognize the need to prioritize vaccination for people who care for vulnerable populations, but not the need to Self-vaccinating vulnerable populations … If harm minimization is paramount, priority must be given to people who receive critical home health care and who are at increased risk precisely because they have no choice but to continue exposure after receiving it To accept supply. “
Minnesota’s vaccination priority list is a disturbingly concrete statement about who we really want to protect. It doesn’t seem like the weakest among us. Are we comfortable with this level of our civilization?
Elizabeth Schiltz is the John D. Herrick Professor of Law in the Law School of St. Thomas University. She teaches disability law and runs a special education clinic. She has written extensively on the rights of people with disabilities and serves on the Board of Directors of L’Arche USA, part of a global network of communities of adults with and without intellectual disabilities who share life and friendship.