PHOENIX — Advocates on Thursday called on Arizona to prioritize people with disabilities and their caregivers when it comes to administering COVID-19 vaccines.
State disability rights groups say Gov. Doug Ducey’s changing to an age-based vaccine plan has them worried about those in their 40s and younger who have disabilities.
“His hybrid approach introduces age categories, but it completely ignores people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and those who live with Down syndrome,” said Sey In, an attorney with the Arizona Center for Disability Law.
According to In, the state Department of Health Services never responded to a letter in December from several disability rights organizations about the matter. Besides better priority status, advocates say the state also needs to provide more communication resources for the registration process and at vaccine sites.
Louise Bowden, executive director of Down Syndrome Network, pointed to Down syndrome being on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s list of medical conditions that put people more at risk if infected by the virus. Adults with Down syndrome tend to age faster. So, those who are only in their 40s may experience certain conditions one would see in the elderly, according to Bowden.
“It only makes sense that people with Down syndrome receive the vaccine now,” Bowden said.
Christine Kendzior, who has four children including a 10-year-old daughter with Down syndrome and autism, said caregivers of people with disabilities should also be prioritized.
“Because my daughter is too young for the vaccine, my husband and I should be prioritized because we are her first-line of defense,” Kendzior said. “Other states have already allowed eligibility for the disability community. And I am begging for Arizona to do the same.”
When asked about people with disabilities at a news conference Wednesday, state Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ asserted the age-based plan will actually lead to them becoming eligible earlier.
“Otherwise, they would have been with the general population under the previous phase. So, this will actually move the majority of those individuals up,” Christ said.
Counties in Arizona are also responsible for prioritizing vaccine distribution for vulnerable communities, she added. They are working on strategies for high-risk groups and homebound residents.
The issue comes as Arizona reported Thursday 1,154 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases and 96 deaths as seven-day rolling averages of daily new cases and daily deaths dropped amid the continued slowing of the coronavirus outbreak.
The latest figures reported by the state increased the pandemic totals to 821,108 cases and 16,185 cases, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard.
COVID-19-related inpatient hospitalizations dropped to 1,072 as of Wednesday, the fewest since Nov. 13 when the fall and winter surge was on the rise.
The rolling average of daily new cases dropped from 1,687.1 to 1,140.9 Wednesday while the rolling average of daily deaths declined from 85.9 to 66.2 during the same period, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher than reported because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.