No Longer Overlooked: Vaccination Prioritisation For The Disabled

Last month a 91-year-old grandmother from the United Kingdom became the first person in the world to be injected with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, hailing a massive scientific break through and a global sigh of relief. As countries around the world draw up plans to rollout their vaccination programs, the fastest and largest vaccine operations in history, it is imperative governments place people with disabilities and autism near the top of the vaccination list. Consistently placed at the end of the queue, people with physical and learning disabilities have been let down, especially with regards to the current coronavirus pandemic.

According to research conducted by the Guardian, when compared with the general public, 76% of people with learning disabilities felt they do not matter to the U.K. government. Additionally, 93% of people with disabilities and autism have stated they “feel more isolated from society because of the pandemic, the detrimental impact of prolonged isolation among those who may not understand the reasons for it cannot be underestimated… anticipating long-term impacts on people’s health.” Throughout the year many people in supported living settings and care homes have only had limited contact with loved ones. Data shows the danger of contracting COVID-19 for people with disabilities and autism is much higher than for the wider population. According to Public Health England, the death rate for people with learning disabilities is more than four times higher than the general population, and disabled people are dying at a much younger age. Disabled “18-34-year-olds are 30 times more likely to die from (the) coronavirus than their non-learning disabled counterparts”, a statistic that should be a major cause for concern for governments around the world.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released the ‘Disability Considerations during the COVID-19 Outbreak’ document, detailing just how vulnerable people with disabilities have been during the pandemic and how they were disproportionately more likely to suffer from the coronavirus. According to a section within the WHO document, some instances where people with disabilities were at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 comprised of barriers towards -;

“implementing basic hygiene measures, such as hand washing (e.g. sinks may be physically
inaccessible, or a person may have physical difficulty rubbing hands together thoroughly; difficulty in
enacting social distancing because of additional support needs or institutionalization; need to touch
things to obtain information from the environment or for physical support; and COVID-19 exacerbating
existing underlying health conditions.”

Moreover people with disabilities have been disproportionately impacted by the outbreak because of
serious disruptions and lack of funding for the services they rely on, resulting in barriers to accessing
health care and public health information.

Therefore it is imperative to place people with disabilities near the top of the list for a COVID vaccine, which would help counteract the disproportionate limitations and injustices suffered by disabled people when compared with the general population. Far too long have people with physical and mental-learning disabilities been kept in the shadow as an after thought, which has resulted in many lives lost. The only meaningful opportunity that has arisen from this dreadful pandemic is the chance for change, and the time has come for a change in how us as members of society treat people with disabilities, one which should be a priority for governments with regards to vaccination and future safeguards.

Zaryab Makhdoom