#AdvocacyMatters: In All Fairness

December 18, 2020 / #AdvocacyMatters

As the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccines arrive in Ohio, one question is on everyone’s mind: who is in line? In Ohio, Phase 1A has already begun as health care workers and nursing facilities prepare for the vaccine. While this is monumental, concerns remain as to whether the most critical populations, such as individuals with disabilities, will be amongst the earliest groups to receive the vaccine. Disability Rights Ohio - along with 8 partner organizations - sent a letter to the Ohio Department of Health with recommendations to ensure people who are at higher risk of infection and serious complications from COVID-19 have first priority in the state’s vaccination plan.

Long-term care facilities have been among the hardest hit by COVID-19 representing less than 1% of Ohio’s population but nearly 50% of Ohio’s COVID-19 deaths. While Phase 1A of Ohio’s vaccine distribution plan prioritizes congregate care settings, it excludes other similar settings, as well as younger individuals in these facilities who share these elevated risks of COVID-19 exposure and infection – unless they meet another priority category. It is the state’s responsibility to protect these individuals in the same way it protects those deemed worthy of Phase 1A.

People in congregate care settings are just one of many populations that are at higher risk for sickness, hospitalization, and death. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities have been shown to have higher risks of complications from COVID-19 regardless of care setting. Likewise, while less at-risk than those in congregate care settings, people in home and community-based services (HCBS) settings often need direct support professionals that aid in their daily tasks—so close contact with people they don’t live with is essential. Including all high-priority populations in the first round of vaccinations is necessary to prevent countless deaths and ensure a fair, equitable process.

Ohio should expand the existing categories to ensure that the most vulnerable populations know when they will potentially be vaccinated. Each day, Ohioans with disabilities are disproportionately ill, hospitalized, and dying as they wait for the vaccine. Not only must Ohio’s COVID-19 vaccine plan change to prioritize these high-risk populations, but it must also make all information and resources on the vaccine widely available and accessible.

As we quickly enter the beginning of the end, it’s crucial that people with disabilities are not left behind. There’s little doubt that the vaccine can save countless lives, so we must take action to ensure that people with the highest risk for sickness, hospitalization, and death are first in line to receive it. With lives on the line, we must ensure that our #AdvocacyMatters.

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