Should the disabled get the COVID-19 Vaccine?
What are the issues concerning people with disabilities and the COVID-19 vaccine?
Author: Attorney Lonnie Roach
Though the gradual decline of new COVID-19 cases is good news, recent research has found that people with disabilities are about three times more likely to die from COVID-19 if they are developmentally or intellectually disabled than people without comorbidities. Those are higher odds for death than for people with Alzheimer’s disease, cancer or kidney disease. People with mobility impairments are even more likely to die from COVID than people with heart failure, spinal cord injury or liver disease.
Disability by itself does not make a person more vulnerable to COVID-19, but certain factors and living conditions may place a disabled person at increased risk of contracting the virus and becoming seriously ill, such as:
- Living in a nursing home or long-term care facility;
- Close contact with caregivers;
- High risk health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, cancer or obesity;
- Difficulty wearing a mask;
- Difficulty staying 6 feet away from others;
- Difficulty washing your hands.
In addition to social distancing and wearing a mask, one of the best tools the disabled have available to protect themselves – and others – from the virus is the COVID-19 vaccine.
The Centers for Disease Control makes recommendations regarding who should get the vaccine first while individual states create their own plans for distribution of the vaccine.
- Phase 1a: Healthcare workers and people who live in long-term care facilities
- Phase 1b: Adults 75 years old and older and essential workers. Essential workers include people exposed to infectious agents in healthcare settings and frontline workers.
- Phase 1c: Adults 65 years old and older, essential workers not included in Phase 1b, and people 16 years old and older who have a high-risk medical condition.
- Phase 2: All people 16 years old and older.
Unfortunately, less attention has been paid to non-elderly people with disabilities like Down syndrome or autism who use long-term services but live outside nursing homes.
While people with disabilities are more vulnerable to COVID-19, many feel they are being left behind in the monumental effort to get limited vaccines into the arms of those who need them most. The CDC now recommends that people with disabilities be considered a priority and get the vaccine as soon as they are eligible; however, when the vaccine is available to you still depends upon your state’s plan.
If you have been denied disability don’t give up! Contact a Disability lawyer at 512-454-4000 for a free consultation and get the benefits you deserve.
What is considered a high-risk medical condition?
The CDC’s list of underlying medical conditions is not static; medical disorders are added as more evidence becomes available. Adults of any age are considered at increased risk of contracting COVID-19 if they have one of the following conditions:
- COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
- Heart conditions such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
- Chronic kidney disease
- Type 2 diabetes mellitus
- Immunocompromised state from an organ transplant
- Down syndrome
- Sickle cell disease
- Severe obesity
An adult of any age with any of the following conditions might be considered at risk:
- Cystic fibrosis
- Cerebrovascular disease
- Moderate to severe asthma
- Type 1 diabetes
- Immunocompromised state due to a bone marrow transplant
- Liver disease
- Neurological conditions such as dementia
- Pulmonary fibrosis
- Thalassemia (a blood disorder)
It should be noted that skilled nurses, physical therapists, Hospice workers, home healthcare workers, and group home providers are also considered essential workers.
Additionally, a parent or family member who helps you with daily care may be able to get the vaccine at the same time that you do.
Though children are less affected by COVID-19 than adults, they can still be infected and children with an underlying medical condition are at greater risk of becoming severely ill.
Those conditions which place children most at risk include Down syndrome, congenital heart disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, chronic lung disease and asthma, and medications which suppress the immune system. (Children with Down syndrome are up to 10 times more likely to die if they catch the virus). Parents are desperately attempting to get the vaccination for their disabled children, even going as far as unsuccessfully trying to give their own vaccination spot to their children. Currently there is no vaccine available for children ages 0-15, but hopefully a pediatric vaccine will be available by late 2021. Children’s immune systems are different from adults, and the immune responses of children are different at different ages, so more vaccine trials need to be conducted in children of young ages. Pfizer and Moderna have begun vaccine trials in children as young as age 12 and hope to have results by June.
Vaccines play a major role in fighting COVID-19.
Vaccines help the body develop immunity to the virus that causes COVID-19 without a person having to contract the illness. Different types of vaccines work in different ways, but all vaccines leave the body with a supply of “memory” T-lymphocytes that will remember how to fight the virus in the future. There are now three vaccines available: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require 2 injections while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is only one injection. After the vaccine you may experience mild symptoms, such as a sore arm, low fever, body aches or headaches. If your symptoms are severe, or they do not subside, contact your doctor.
Though the vaccine is a must for most adults, there are some people who should not take the COVID-19 vaccine. Do not take the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine:
- If you have had a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) or an immediate allergic reaction to any ingredient in an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (such as polyethylene glycol), you should not get an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.
- If you have had a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) or an immediate allergic reaction after getting the first dose of the vaccine, you should not get a second dose of either of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.
- An allergic reaction is considered severe when a person needs to be treated with epinephrine or EpiPen© or if they must go to the hospital.
- An immediate allergic reaction means a reaction within 4 hours of getting vaccinated, including symptoms such as hives, swelling, or wheezing (respiratory distress).
- If you have had a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) or an immediate allergic reaction to any ingredientexternal icon in the J&J/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine (such as polysorbate).
- An allergic reaction is considered severe when a person needs to be treated with epinephrine or EpiPen© or if they must go to the hospital. Experts refer to severe allergic reactions as anaphylaxis
Do not take the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine:
The COVID-19 vaccine is now being offered at county hubs, clinics, and various pharmacies and is free.
In Texas, visit the Texas COVID-19 Vaccine Provider Locations map to locate providers near you who are offering the vaccine. The nationwide demand for COVID-19 vaccine continues to outstrip supply so be sure to call ahead to see if they have vaccine supply available for you. All three vaccines are effective; however, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine carries a few advantages in that it does not need to be kept frozen and only one injection is needed. A disabled person will not need to return for a second appointment, and the added supply of vaccine should make getting an appointment for a vaccine easier.
If you have difficulty making an appointment, enlist the help of a family member, friend or caregiver.
There are a number of community volunteer and online groups organized to help others find vaccine appointments. These groups share which pharmacy locations have the best availability, let you know which sites are accepting appointments, and when large numbers of appointments become available. Check your neighborhood listserv and city council resources. Most of the online groups can be found on Facebook and require joining to share and use information. The best groups focus on a specific area, such as Vaccinate Houston. Go to the Facebook Groups section on Facebook to find a group for your city, state or area and search for terms such as COVID vaccine plus the name of your city or area. This search tool isn’t the easiest to use, so have patience.
Once you have an appointment, be prepared to wait in line for a while.
Dress appropriately for the weather, but wear clothing that allows your arm to be exposed, carry water, and bring a chair or wheelchair, if necessary. In the meantime, while you wait for an appointment, protect yourself and others by continuing to follow CDC guidelines:
- Wear a mask and wash your hands frequently;
- Limit interactions with other people;
- Stay 6 feet away from others; and
- Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated places.
The Hopkins Disability Health Research Center and the Center for Dignity in Healthcare for People with Disabilities (CDHPD recently launched their COVID-19 Vaccine Prioritization Dashboard to help those with disabilities to determine whether they are eligible for vaccination in their state. It contains a wealth of information and is updated regularly.
There is no way to guarantee zero risk of contracting COVID-19 for anyone, but by taking the above steps and getting vaccinated, you can reduce your risk substantially.
See https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/communication/toolkits/people-with-disabilities.html for more information on COVID-19 resources.
Disability benefits are an important source of income for those who are unable to work. If you are not able to work due to accident or illness, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability or Long Term Disability benefits. If you have applied for benefits and been denied, contact the attorneys at Bemis, Roach and Reed for a free consultation. Call 512-454-4000 and get help NOW.
Author: Attorney Lloyd Bemis has been practicing law for over 35 years. He is Superlawyers rated by Thomson Reuters and is Top AV Preeminent® and Client Champion Gold rated by Martindale Hubbell. Through his extensive litigation Mr. Bemis obtained dual board certifications from the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Lloyd is admitted to practice in the United States District Court - all Texas Districts and has argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit. Mr. Bemis is a member of the Travis County Bar Association. He has been active in the American Association for Justice and is a past Director of the Capital Area Trial Lawyers Association. Mr. Bemis and all the members of Bemis, Roach & Reed have been active participants in the Travis County Lawyer referral service.
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