In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the day-to-day challenges facing autistic people and their families. Those challenges get far more intense during disasters. And coronavirus is proving to be the biggest disaster of all.
When Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the latest changes in the way California determines eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines, he chose an analogy that unintentionally revealed just how misguided the revised guidelines are.
It’s like boarding an airplane, Newsom said. The gate agents don’t wait for every first-class passenger to enter the plane before they let the business-class passengers on. And the customers traveling in economy don’t wait until every last business-class passenger boards before they head down the jetway.
The problem? The governor failed to include those who usually get to board the plane first: people with disabilities. Like me.
Unfortunately, that oversight is hardly surprising. Since the pandemic started, we have been largely confined to our homes without the support we are used to. Quarantine means many of our caregivers stayed away, causing our family members to quit their jobs so they could fill in. Many students with disabilities aren’t receiving the support they need to properly attend, and benefit from, virtual school. We feel so alone.
But now Newsom appears to have downgraded us — or overlooked us — in his vaccine distribution plan, which first gave priority to people by occupation and then by age. Neither approach accounts for the needs of the millions of Californians with disabilities.
Sammy Caiola at Capital Public Radio:
Judy Mark, president of a nonprofit called Disability Voices United and mother to a 23-year-old with autism spectrum disorder, says advocates are concerned that after seniors and frontline workers are vaccinated, the state will begin moving down the age categories without paying attention to underlying conditions. The state has not yet defined which medical conditions make someone eligible for early access to the vaccine.
“While that’s a straightforward process, it’s leaving a lot of people out,” she said. ”It just makes no sense … It doesn’t follow the science, either. Because we know that people with disabilities have significantly higher rates of hospitalization and death.”
An NPR analysis of data from New York and Pennsylvania found that people with intellectual disabilities who contract COVID-19 die at a higher rate than other residents.
Advocates say people with severe disabilities should be bumped up to the first tier of Phase 1B, alongside people age 65 and older, making them next in line for the vaccine. The state has not yet clarified exactly how Monday's announcement changes the current priority plan, and which groups will be eligible next after people older than 65 and certain frontline workers are vaccinated.