Advocacy group says people with developmental disabilities should be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccine

·2 min read
Sharon Willey says that while she is glad her daughter Emma will be eligible for the vaccine in this next phase, the age-based rollout means a continued waiting game. (Submitted by Sharon Willey - image credit)
Sharon Willey says that while she is glad her daughter Emma will be eligible for the vaccine in this next phase, the age-based rollout means a continued waiting game. (Submitted by Sharon Willey - image credit)

Alberta's next phase of the coronavirus vaccine rollout is underway and more than 945,000 Albertans with underlying health conditions are eligible to book their vaccination appointment.

Bookings, however, are being staggered by birth year, a decision that has frustrated some advocates for people with developmental disabilities.

Tom McMillan, a spokesperson for Alberta Health, said Albertans with disabilities are included in this phase of vaccination because they are at high risk of severe outcomes — which is also true for cancer patients, transplant recipients and others who are eligible.

In Phase 2B, individuals with Down syndrome, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, cerebral palsy, and autism spectrum disorder, among others are eligible for the vaccine.

However, current pharmacy bookings are for those born between 1957 and 1963, and Alberta Health Services bookings open April 5th for those born between 1957 and 1959.

'Very disappointed'

This means Sharon Willey's 18-year-old daughter Emma, who has severe cognitive delay and a heart condition, will continue to wait to be vaccinated.

"We are very disappointed, frustrated," said Willey. "We were heard... but at the same time we weren't heard... we've got 39 years ahead of us."

Willey says she has kept her daughter home, away from school and other supports, since the pandemic began.

A grassroots group called Ready For My Shot is calling on the Alberta government to forego the age rollout for people with developmental disabilities and to make the entire group eligible immediately.

Mike Waddingham and his wife Sue Robins co-founded the group. Their 18-year-old son, Aaron, has Down syndrome.

"Give those people their shots regardless of age, give them the heath service that they have a right to and move on," said Waddingham.

Inclusion Alberta, who advocated for people with developmental disabilities to be included in the next phase of vaccine rollout, says they are pleased with the inclusions but is also hearing from a number of concerned families who cannot plan for when their families will get the vaccine.

"The efficiency with which they're able to roll this out and the speed is going to be a really critical factor because people are highly anxious," said Trish Bowman with the organization.

The province says vaccine supply is limited and it will expand the rollout to include other birth years as quickly as it can.

They add that age continues to be the largest risk factor for more severe outcomes of the illness, which is why vaccine rollout prioritizes those groups first.