Developmental Disability and the COVID 19 vaccine Inclusion Alberta

UPDATE: High-Risk Albertans with Developmental Disabilities & Support Workers Should be Included in the Early Phases of Vaccine Schedule

March 15, 2021

MARCH 15, 2021 UPDATE:

Today the Government of Alberta released its detailed information regarding which underlying health conditions are included in Vaccine Distribution Phase 2B. For individuals with developmental disabilities and their families, the most relevant section is entitled ‘Severe and profound learning disabilities or sever developmental delay, including Down syndrome’. Please note that a doctor’s note or other proof of condition is not required to book an appointment and receive the vaccine.

No date is yet available as to when Phase 2B bookings will begin.

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January 14, 2021

Inclusion Alberta represents thousands of Albertans with developmental disabilities, some of whom require support workers who come into their residences to provide them with needed assistance. There are two issues with Alberta’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution schedule that we fear leave individuals with developmental disabilities behind and at undue risk.

The first is in regard to the essential disability-related support staff who Albertans with developmental disabilities rely on for the care and support they need to remain safe and secure within the places they reside or attend. These support staff work in settings directly comparable to the settings that health care workers enter, yet it is not clear if they are included in Phase 1A nor are they referenced specifically in any other Phase.

Alberta Health Services has already communicated to families utilizing Self-Manage Care (SMC) that home care workers coming into their homes are eligible to be vaccinated:

Subject: RE: SMC Covid Vaccine

Key Messages for SMC Agreement Holders 

You are being contacted because the caregiver(s) hired by you under the SMC agreement are eligible for immunization with the COVID-19 vaccine. In order to arrange immunization you will need to provide the full name, phone number, and email address for each of your caregivers.

Your caregiver(s) will be contacted directly via phone or email to make an appointment to receive the vaccine and additional details such as location and timing will be provided at that time.

Immunization with the vaccine is voluntary but very highly encouraged in order to protect the health of your caregivers.”

Just as home care staff go into families’ homes through SMC, so do disability-related support staff who are either employed directly by families or by service providers through FSCD (Family Support for Children with Disabilities). For some families this means their home care staff will be vaccinated but not their disability support staff, which makes little sense. Similarly, just as home care staff go into the homes of adults under SMC agreements, disability-related support staff go into what may be the very same homes through FMS agreements or through community service providers.

Disability-related support staff are essential to the well-being of a population that cannot remain safe in their homes and residences without assistance, who also have higher rates of co-morbidities than non-disabled Canadians and greater vulnerabilities to infections, such as COVID-19, which are more life-threatening at younger ages. We need government assurance that disability-related support staff are or will be included in Phase 1A of the immunization plan.

Second, is the issue of the inclusion of individuals with developmental disabilities, such as those with Down syndrome, in the vaccination schedule within Phase 1B given their known vulnerabilities to COVID-19. Decisions must be made on the basis of science; this is necessary and right. Given the science with respect to the known vulnerability of the ravages of COVID-19 for individuals with developmental disabilities, such as those with Down syndrome, as well as the differential impact of aging, it is imperative that decisions be made not only on the basis of science but with respect to equality and equity as well. Other jurisdictions, such as the UK and Australia, have recognized this science and prioritized persons with disabilities and their workers by including them in their equivalent to Phase 1A or 1B. Individuals with developmental disabilities are always at risk of being forgotten or their value as human beings being diminished. We sincerely hope this will not happen in the midst of a pandemic and Alberta’s response to it.

Alberta Health has been responsive previously with respect to ensuring equality and equity with respect to triage protocols and support for individuals with developmental disabilities who have to be hospitalized. Individuals with developmental disabilities and their families have been appreciative of these needed and necessary accommodations. We believe, on the basis of science, equality and equity this needs to be applied to the vaccination schedule as well to ensure the rightful inclusion of individuals with developmental disabilities at the earliest possibility.

We have expressed these concerns regarding the vaccination schedule in writing to the Minister of Health Tyler Shandro, Minister of Community and Social Services Rajan Sawhney as well as Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw. Inclusion Alberta calls upon families and allies to contact your MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly/Alberta Government) today and explain the need to include high-risk Albertans with developmental disabilities and support workers in the early phases of the vaccination distribution plan. Click here to find your MLA, and please email us to let us know who you have contacted.