A “recumbent team” wearing personal protective equipment prepares to lay a COVID-19 patient on their stomach in an intensive care unit at a Stamford, Connecticut hospital (John Moore / Getty Images / TNS).
New research suggests that people with intellectual disabilities are about six times more likely to die when they contract COVID-19. This is a higher risk than almost anyone else.
A review of 64 million medical records of people viewed by 547 health organizations in the US between January 2019 and November 2020 found that intellectual disability is the largest risk factor for COVID-19 deaths alongside age.
“The chances of dying from COVID-19 are higher in people with intellectual disabilities than in people with heart failure, kidney or lung disease,” said Jonathan Gleason, chief quality officer at Jefferson Health in Philadelphia and lead author of the study was published this month published in the New England Journal of Medicine Catalyst.
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“This is a profound insight that we as a health community have not yet fully appreciated,” he said.
The study found that people with intellectual disabilities were 2.5 times more likely than others to be diagnosed with COVID-19 and 2.7 times more likely to be hospitalized. And they were 5.9 times more likely to die from complications from the virus.
This means that “intellectual disability was the strongest independent risk factor for submitting a COVID-19 diagnosis and the strongest independent risk factor other than age for COVID-19 mortality,” according to the study.
The increased risk could be related to the inability of people in this population to distance themselves socially, wear masks, or follow other practices to reduce exposure to COVID-19, the researchers said. However, people with intellectual disabilities are also more prone to other health conditions that would make them susceptible to the virus, they said.
The study is just the latest to highlight the increased risk for people with developmental disabilities. It is therefore that advocates continue to fight for people in this population to be given priority over access to COVID-19 vaccines. So far, a patchwork approach has been in place nationwide, with some states and municipalities granting access to people with developmental disabilities and others not.
“We need to understand more about what is happening to these patients,” Gleason said. “I believe these patients and their carers should be a priority for vaccination and health services. We should think about why we failed this vulnerable population and how we can better serve them in this health crisis and in the future. “