People with disabilities have faced greater challenges than most during the pandemic. From inaccessible digital information on the disease and how to prevent infection to closed public transportation systems, they’ve experienced serious strife. As it turns out, they’ve also been disproportionately afflicted by the horrors of the disease itself. According to a Wall Street Journal study, COVID-19 is more deadly for people with autism, Down Syndrome, and other disorders.
WSJ analyzed data from 12 states and concluded that people with intellectual disorders were “more than 2½ times as likely to die from COVID-19 as the wider U.S. population.” While this is potentially due to a prevalence of pre-existing conditions like heart disease and respiratory conditions found in this population, doctors still aren’t quite sure why they are so susceptible.
As state and federal governments struggle to determine who to vaccinate first, many caregivers and family members are furious at what they see as a deprioritization of a vulnerable group. A recent federal panel determined that individuals 75 and older, who are at higher risk for serious COVID-19 consequences and hospitalization, will be next in line after essential workers to receive the vaccine. The CDC has also “recommended making some facilities for people with intellectual development disorders a secondary priority” if vaccines run short. However, it will ultimately be up to each state to decide what groups to prioritize unless the Biden administration changes this plan in 2021.
This infuriates caregivers like Grahame Morgan, a caregiver in a home for people with intellectual development disorders. Out of eight residents, five died early on in the pandemic. Though the care home has since implemented robust safety protocols, the lack of confirmed evidence as to why this populace is so vulnerable to the virus is devastating and terrifying for caregivers and family members. Researchers hypothesize it may have something to do with communication between patients and medical professionals, along with pre-existing health conditions.
Scott D. Lande, a researcher who studies the effects of COVID-19 on individuals with disabilities, says, “Historically, this is a population that has not achieved as good a care and is not as well understood by the medical community.” They may not have caregivers available to help them translate their needs or how they are feeling to a doctor, leading to inadequate care.
For now, until a COVID-19 vaccine is widely in use, take extra precautions when interacting with high-risk groups, especially individuals with disabilities. Stay updated on the vaccine rollout by checking your state’s website and write to your elected representatives to express your opinions.