People with Disabilities are Still Being Largely Ignored in State COVID-19 Vaccine Priority Lists

covid vaccine

People with developmental disabilities are more than three times more likely than their peers to die from COVID-19. Despite this, most states have prioritized health care workers and people in nursing homes in their initial Covid vaccine rollouts, bypassing numerous high-risk people with disabilities living outside of nursing home settings.

As of March 11, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had not yet updated its guidance to prioritize people with developmental disabilities. In a February 22 letter, 16 disability advocacy groups urged the CDC to do so, stressing that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) are at high-risk of mortality from Covid, regardless of whether they live in nursing homes.

“Currently, there is significant variability in how individuals with IDD are prioritized in vaccine allocation frameworks,” the advocacy groups wrote in the letter. “We ask that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide a centralized framework for vaccine allocation with clear guidelines regarding risk that includes adults with IDD.”

Despite the slow start and as a result of a major push from disability rights groups, more states are expanding their Covid vaccine priority lists to encompass people with high-risk disabilities outside of nursing homes.

[Each state’s vaccine priority policies can be tracked using Johns Hopkins University’s “COVID-19 Vaccine Prioritization Dashboard.”]

In New York, for example, four million more people became eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine on February 15, after the state significantly expanded its list of qualifying conditions for eligibility, including hypertension, obesity, and many common chronic conditions.

California was slower to prioritize people with disabilities, opting instead to prioritize many elderly people without underlying conditions (as highlighted in this Democracy Now! segment). However, starting March 15, Californians will be eligible for a vaccine if they are “deemed to be at the very highest risk of mortality and mortality from COVID-19.” The eligibility list includes a variety of conditions, including cancer, chronic kidney and pulmonary disease, Down syndrome, organ transplant, pregnancy, sickle-cell disease, heart conditions not including hypertension, severe obesity, and Type-2 diabetes.

An age-based vaccine priority plan in Connecticut, similar to California’s plan before its most recent change, is the subject of a disability discrimination complaint filed last month by Disability Rights Connecticut.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved three separate vaccines for the COVID-19 virus: Pfizer-BioNTech’s, Moderna’s and, most recently, Johnson & Johnson’s. President Biden announced March 2 that the U.S. will have enough Covid vaccine supply by May 31 for all adults nationwide.

For the latest information on states’ vaccine priority polices for people with IDD and supporting professionals, see the American Network of Community Options and Resources’ “Vaccine Prioritization at a Glance” page.

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