Call to Action – COVID-19 Priority Vaccine Distribution

by | Nov 17, 2020

After an arduous nine months of the COVID-19 pandemic, recent weeks have delivered us welcome news of two vaccines that are proving effective in preventing the disease. Subsequently, serious consideration is being given to the distribution and allocation of the vaccines, as a priority, to populations with high risk. As such, a recent New York Times article identifies that people with intellectual disabilities and developmental disabilities are three times more likely to die from the illness compared with others who have contracted the virus. The NADSP holds the strong position that vaccine distribution must be delivered in a safe and equitable manner, and individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and those who directly support them (Direct Support Professionals) must be explicitly identified in the framework for phase one of any vaccine allocation.

Our organization recently joined the American Academy of Developmental Medicine & Dentistry (AADMD) and three other national advocacy organizations to issue a joint statement that addresses the risks facing people with I/DD during the pandemic and recommends how they should be included in the vaccine allocation framework. We recommend the following be included in the vaccine allocation framework:

  1. I/DD should be explicitly included in the list of high-risk diagnoses that are used to determine if an individual is included in phase 1b (2 high risk diagnoses required) or phase 2 (1 high risk diagnosis required).
  2. Include additional pulmonary comorbidities in the list of high-risk diagnoses: chronic or recurrent respiratory diseases from any cause, restrictive lung disease, and interstitial lung disease
  3. Individuals who live in group homes or other congregate residential settings should be considered at equivalent risk to older adults who live in congregate settings and thus be included in phase one of vaccine allocation.
  4. All direct support professionals (DSP), including group home staff should be considered essential health care workers and should be included in Phase 1a of vaccine allocation, not Phase 2.

The COVID-19 pandemic has overwhelmed this country, but, as noted above, it has disproportionately overwhelmed people with disabilities, specifically those who reside in congregate living settings, most of whom rely on a direct support professionals to help keep them safe, healthy and maintain a sense of normalcy.

The last nine months has also had a devastating effect on the direct support workforce. According to a recent study by the University of Minnesota and NADSP, nearly half (42%) of DSPs said that they know of staff who left their jobs due to the pandemic, 74% reported that they are their family’s primary wage earner averaging only $13.63/hour and only 24% reported earning extra pay due to COVID-19 risks.

Once again direct support professionals are anonymous – this time while supporting highly vulnerable people during a once in a century pandemic. Since the onset, they have been risking their lives on the frontlines in every community in this country, often without recognition, adequate resources and with significant challenges. To not include them in the first phase 1a of the vaccine distribution would prove detrimental to our service system and put countless families at risk of serious illness and death.

Call to Action

We ask that you share this American Academy of Developmental Medicine & Dentistry (AADMD) joint statement with self-advocates, family members, policy makers and elected officials to make certain that people with disabilities and those who support them are given the opportunity of relief from the pandemic and what it has bestowed upon them.

Joseph M. Macbeth

President/Chief Executive Officer

National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals, Inc.