BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — There are calls for New York to prioritize people with intellectual and developmental disabilities for COVID-19 vaccination.
Oishei Children's Hospital, GiGi's Playhouse Buffalo, The Family & Friends Down's Syndrome Association of Niagara, Inc., and other organizations wrote a letter to the state requesting individuals 16 and older with intellectual or developmental disabilities be added to Phase 1B. The letter cited higher COVID-19 mortality rates for those groups.
The letter also called for the definition of long-term care facilities to expand and include group homes for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
People in congregate care settings are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, including those with developmental disabilities. The state said COVID-19 spreads faster in group settings.
Christine Sirianni's 32-year-old daughter Andrea was born with Down syndrome and congenital heart disease. According to the CDC, those conditions increase risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
Her daughter lives at home and is not eligible for the vaccine.
“Which is concerning, for this populous who are at a much much higher risk for mortality if they should succumb to COVID-19,” Sirianni said.
Sirianni is the president of The Family & Friends Down's Syndrome Association of Niagara, Inc. She said her daughter loves working, volunteering, and being active, but since the pandemic she has not been able to do any of that and mostly stays home.
The letter asks the state to look at Ohio's guidelines which, according to the Ohio's vaccination website, includes "severe genetic disorders including Down syndrome" in Phase 1B. New Jersey includes Down syndrome on its list of eligible medical conditions in Phase 1B. Governor Phil Murphy said the state's list is defined by the CDC.
A Governor Cuomo administration spokesperson said the state understands the concerns of the groups in the letter, but a lack of supply is forcing the state to limit eligibility.
“Our singular goal is to get as many New Yorkers vaccinated as quickly as possible — but due to a lack of supply from the federal government, we have been forced to limit eligibility. Currently over 7 million New Yorkers are eligible for the vaccine, but our weekly allocation of doses from the federal government was cut without any explanation. While we understand these groups’ concerns and are sensitive to their requests, we are constrained until the Federal government steps up and provides more doses -- hopefully this will change with the new administration”
GiGi's Playhouse Buffalo Executive Director Emily Mondschein said people with Down syndrome are scared of the risk COVID-19 poses, which is leading to isolation for many.
“Especially the developmental disability community really depends on having access to the community, and they’re shut in to some degree,” Mondschein said.
The letter said caregivers, such as family members, need to be prioritized as well. Mondschein said it is important to recognize caregivers outside congregate settings.
“If we’re not sort of supporting the caretaker, and making sure that they are well, that individual is going to lose access to so many supports that they receive on a daily basis,” Mondschein said.
The letter also asks the state to make vaccine sites more accessible.
"When the vaccine is available, people with developmental disabilities, they need access," Mondschein said. "They need transportation to get the vaccine, you know we need to have drive-up sites because it's not easy for everybody to just get out and walk inside. They need to think about them in this conversation, they are the largest minority group that exists, so we really need to start paying attention to this, it's not going away."
Last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the state would adopt federal guidance and expand vaccine eligibility to those who are immunocompromised. The state has not defined what conditions will qualify, and said people won't be able to register under immunocompromised until then.