Concerns were raised Friday that people with some chronic conditions and disabilities were not included in Minnesota’s new COVID-19 vaccine plan that is set to begin in April.
These include people with intellectual and physical disabilities, schizophrenia and type 1 diabetes, conditions that put them at high risk for COVID-19 complications.
With an estimated 2.6 million people becoming eligible because they have one or more of the 10 identified medical conditions or are employed in one of more than 20 essential industries, some who have been left out may get the vaccine as members of other groups.
But some who don’t have even the most common conditions, obesity and type 2 diabetes, won’t qualify, and others who don’t have jobs, partly because of their medical conditions or disability, will also be passed over.
“When you start to look at the list and you see that people were being left out, it’s very maddening and disheartening,” said Pam Wallace Herbstritt. “I am sure if you fall on that list you are excited. There’s so many people out there who are not.”
Wallace Herbstritt is one of three parents of children with disabilities who launched the Facebook group Vaccinate the Vulnerable Minnesota to advocate for changes in the state’s vaccine policy. They will be holding a car rally at the State Capitol in St. Paul on Saturday afternoon to protest the rollout plan announced Thursday.
People with Down syndrome, a type of intellectual disability, did make the list.
“I was thrilled but surprised that the disability community in general was left behind,” said Sarah Curfman, executive director of the Down Syndrome Association of Minnesota.
Disability advocates met with officials from the Minnesota Department of Health and the governor’s office Friday afternoon to raise concerns, but no agreement was reached on altering the state’s plans.
“As a group we probably left a little frustrated because a lot of these issues have already been raised with them,” said Barnett Rosenfield of the Minnesota Disability Law Center.
Rosenfield said the state’s vaccination plans violate the spirit of the 1999 landmark Olmstead decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which said that people with disabilities should be able to live in community settings rather than be segregated into institutions.
“If you provide a public service, in this case vaccines to people with disabilities in nursing home settings, then you also need to provide that service in the most integrated setting,” he said. “Otherwise you are forcing people to institutionalize in order to get that service.”
Dr. Madeleine Gagnon, Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare’s associate medical director of pediatrics, said many people with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 complications.
“We are feeling the medical impact of individuals who are at risk for more potentially serious complications of COVID not being recognized in that prioritization,” she said.
Some people breathe through a tube inserted into the neck, but because they don’t rely on a dedicated oxygen supply, they don’t qualify for the vaccine under the new guidelines.
“Of course they are at risk but they are not captured” in the new guidelines, she said. “They represent the limitations of the current criteria.”
Others can’t wear masks or maintain social distancing because of their disabilities.
“A vaccine would be a mitigation tool that we could use that would be more equitable based on someone’s disability, rare disease or underlying health condition,” Gagnon said.
While type 2 diabetics were included, no priority was given to people with type 1 diabetes.
“It is like saying breast cancer qualifies but not lung cancer,” said Bruce Kluckhohn, who was diagnosed 46 years ago with type 1 when he was age 10.
Kluckhohn, 56, will eventually qualify when the state’s plan opens up to those age 50 to 64 regardless of medical condition.
“But you want to be higher up the list,” he said.
NAMI Minnesota has been asking state health officials to include people diagnosed with schizophrenia as a COVID-19 vaccine priority.
“We have heard from providers who are very worried about those who have serious schizophrenia,” said Sue Abderholden, executive director of the advocacy organization for those with mental illness. “Having to be isolated on top of that has made it really worse.”
She pointed to studies out of Australia and New York that showed that people with schizophrenia are dying at higher rates.
“I get it. This is not easy to figure this out because this is rationing,” she said. “It is hard because many groups want to get moved up.”
So far, the number of first COVID-19 doses administered in Minnesota is 804,716, with half of them having received the recommended second dose. Combined, more than 1.2 million shots have been administered since the coronavirus vaccines arrived shortly before Christmas.
State health officials also reported another 1,156 confirmed COVID-19 cases along with 12 additional deaths.
Since the pandemic began in Minnesota one year ago, 482,978 have tested positive for the coronavirus that causes the disease and 6,462 have died from coronavirus complications.
Five of the deaths announced Friday were among long-term care residents, bringing the pandemic total to 4,046.
The number of COVID-19 patients in Minnesota’s hospitals stands at 263, including 60 in intensive care. A week ago, 281 people with coronavirus complications were in hospitals, including 59 in intensive care.
Diagnostic laboratories reported 39,601 COVID-19 test results to the state on Thursday. So far, nearly 3.5 million Minnesotans have been tested.
Glenn Howatt • 612-673-7192