Households push for Georgians with developmental disabilities to be prioritized in vaccine rollout | Ga Fl Information
ATLANTA – Georgians with intellectual and developmental disabilities make up two of the top three groups at risk of death if they contract COVID-19. Cancer patients are the third.
Andy Meredith will be able to get the vaccine when the state moves into the next phase. Not because he has Down syndrome, but because of his job.
“My son with Down syndrome also works in a grocery store,” Stephanie Meredith told CNHI. “So as a grocery clerk, he’ll have access to the vaccine sooner than a person with Down syndrome.”
Lawyers and family members of Georgians with special health needs are urging the state to give priority to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their caregivers at an earlier stage of approved COVID-19 vaccinations.
Late last month – almost a year after the pandemic started – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta added people with Down syndrome to their list of conditions at higher risk for serious complications.
At the same time, new research from Johns Hopkins University has shown that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are among the highest risk death groups.
The results confirmed what families and supporters already knew: The disabled community must get the vaccine sooner.
As per federal recommendations, healthcare workers and long-term care workers in Georgia received the first wave of vaccine doses, followed by first responders and law enforcement agencies. Governor Brian Kemp then announced the transition to begin vaccinating all Georgians 65 and over and their caregivers.
The upcoming next phase in Georgia includes key workers in non-healthcare facilities – such as grocers, teachers, and people who are vital to the state’s infrastructure.
But similar to the early days of the pandemic when state officials struggled to distribute test kits enough to slow the spread of the virus, federal government vaccine allocations have become extremely scarce due to cases and deaths.
Dr. Health ministry commissioner Kathleen Toomey said the state does not know how many doses he will be given per week. At current rates, it will likely take “many, many, many months” to vaccinate all Georgians.
Dr. Roy Benaroch is a pediatrician who runs multiple practices in the Atlanta metropolitan area. He often works with patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Benaroch said the population was easy to leave behind.
“These are people who are easily overlooked,” he said. “They’re there, but they’re kind of calm. They often do not speak and need people to represent them and see that their health is protected. “
In drawing up their vaccination plans, states relied heavily on recommendations from the CDC, which mirrored Georgia’s plan.
At this point in time, Down’s syndrome was not considered a condition with serious COVID-19 risks. Research on the high mortality rates of the mentally and developmentally disabled has not yet been published.
“Now that you have this information,” Meredith said. “I think they should really consider making these changes given the risk to our population.”
Kemp responded to calls for expanded vaccination eligibility during a January 12 press conference – the state just doesn’t have enough vaccines for everyone, he said.
“We continue to hear concerns about additional populations anxious to receive the vaccines – educators, people with underlying diseases, disabilities and their carers,” he said. “Please know that we work tirelessly to maintain our limited range of vaccines.” Vaccine for those who need it. And who will do it best? “
Heidi Moore’s 21-year-old son Jacob sees 13 medical specialists treating multiple conditions – Down’s syndrome, autism, and long-term side effects from more than three years of chemotherapy after a diagnosis of leukemia. He is now in remission.
“Unfortunately, the disabled community is often overlooked when there are nationwide initiates,” said Heidi Moore. “When they should be at the forefront of concern.”
In late December, a coalition of advocacy groups sent Kemp and leading state health officials a letter of “grave concern” urging them to reconsider the prioritization of Georgians with disabilities and their caregivers who have shouldered the weight of the pandemic for family members.
“This is a time to take care of the people who need it most and I really believe that we are missing a huge population,” said Heidi Moore. “This is how I feel as a parent – you don’t value life.” from my son. “
Given the high risks, Benaroch, who is also a professor at Emory University, said that many Georgians with disabilities are unable to communicate their medical needs. A symptom like loss of their smell or taste would be virtually impossible to explain to their parents or doctors, making it difficult to treat the virus.
Months of isolation
Elderly Georgians and people with illnesses that put them at increased risk have been staying at home for months – government officials once ordered them to protect themselves inside.
For people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are heavily dependent on socialization, remoteness can have physical effects.
Without environments like schools, employment, and community-based activities, isolation can cause individuals to regress in their language and other behaviors.
“People with special health needs are particularly hard hit by the pandemic due to social isolation,” said Benaroch. “The loss of employment, social and educational opportunities – many of these programs have had to be suspended – is particularly difficult for people with special health needs. They really need to be able to connect with their friends, their employers, and their schools. “
Distance learning is often not an option for Georgians with developmental disabilities. Because the schools are completely virtual, parents have difficulty working and looking after their children at home.
Evan Woody is easily distracted when trying to participate in online learning at Dunwoody High School. The 21-year-old suffered a brain injury as a child that left him with a 3-year equivalency. Despite a full-time virtual learning schedule, Evan currently receives an average of 1.3 hours of classes per day, his parents say.
Philip Woody, his father, took a sabbatical from work to take care of his son, and while trying to plan future care for Evan, he has to pat his back constantly for help. His wife Lisa Woody often works all night to get her job done.
“The disability community is always an afterthought of sorts,” said Philip Woody, who is committed to helping DeKalb County’s school district return to face-to-face learning.
But now, just before his 22nd birthday, Evan Woody will soon be leaving the school system.
“Even if he got a vaccine, he would be through school in a few months,” said Philip Woody. “It’s really disappointing.”
Caregivers are constantly concerned about catching the virus and bringing it home to a loved one at a higher risk.
Lawyers and family members are calling for carers for Georgians with disabilities to be given a higher vaccination priority.
“Many people with special health needs rely on their families as primary caregivers well beyond the age of adulthood. So your caretakers are closely involved in their lives, ”said Benaroch. “It is important that caretakers and those with special needs, as well as caretakers for the elderly, have access to the vaccine. I think they should be in the same category. “
Large numbers of Georgians with intellectual and developmental disabilities work as grocers and rely on Medicaid for health insurance.
“Many of them live on the fringes of society and have limited access to health care and limited health insurance due to fewer job opportunities,” said Benaroch.
This again burdens the Georgians with care costs.
“In the end, when they get sick,” said Heidi Moore. “It will cost taxpayers more dollars to get COVID.”
As the state strives to introduce its limited vaccine supply, the cost of caring for the most vulnerable populations in the state continues to rise. State officials have little hope of receiving more vaccine doses each week with the new presidential administration, but it will be months before all Georgians are vaccinated against the deadly virus.
Until now, Georgians with disabilities have not been added to the eligibility criteria for vaccine administration, health ministry spokeswoman Nancy Nydam said in a statement. “We have a very limited range of vaccines. Until we are notified that our allocations are increasing, we cannot open the eligibility if we do not have a vaccine to administer. This applies to all populations, including the current phase.”
Stephanie Meredith understands the challenges health officials face, but is still concerned about her son Andy.
“I have empathy for whatever they try to pull off,” Meredith said. “But I just think that once we get past the first responders and the really vulnerable elderly population, we have to make sure that we are.” cares for the people who are most likely to die. “