Across the EU, flawed vaccine campaigns have not been prioritizing people with disabilities even though they are at higher risk. While health policy and services are a national issue, several Disabled persons’ organizations (DPOs) continue advocating for the EU and World Health Organization strongly recommend priority access to vaccination for persons with disabilities (including informed consent, and accessible information).
As features the European Disability Forum, of which AE is a member, on the article ‘Vaccine roll-out in Europe’, since the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out began, there has been much controversy and debate around its speed and prioritisation of ‘at risk’ groups. Unfortunately, there have been many instances across Europe where people with disabilities, including autistic people, have not been appropriately prioritized.
People with disabilities are in greater danger of contracting COVID-19. Some have limited mobility and cannot avoid coming into close contact with others who may be infected, such as direct support providers and family members. Others may have trouble understanding information, communicating symptoms of illness or practicing preventive measures, such as hand washing and social distancing due to intellectual disabilities and learning disabilities.
The situation of vaccination priority varies from country to country. Institutions and alternative living facilities have been hot beds for the spread of COVID-19 and yet, vaccination campaigns in these environments have been slow. Disability organization, CERMI in Spain reports that high support needs people and other people with disabilities outside of institutional environments are not being reached. They also warn that there is not enough accessible information on the pandemic and the vaccine, which leaves many without the possibility to make an informed decision.
People with Down Syndrome have been identified as a priority group in France and in Germany, along with other persons with intellectual disabilities and dementia living in institutions. In the UK, people with Down Syndrome and severe learning disabilities are included in priority groups, and other groups of people with learning disabilities have only recently been added after pushback from disability organisations.
In Italy, people with disabilities were not mentioned in the vaccination plan published in December 2020. However the Extraordinary Commissioner for the Implementation of Health Measures to Contain the COVID-19 pandemic in Italy has declared that people with disabilities will be vaccinated in February. This came as a result of mass mobilisation of the disability community, who was rightfully outraged that they were left out of the first round.
Survey on vaccination campaigns
The European Disability Forum (EDF) has created a short 6 question survey on how vaccination campaigns in countries across Europe are going for people with disabilities. Currently EDF is advocating for persons with disabilities to be priorities in vaccination strategies in Europe. They are looking for feedback from interested stakeholders on the current situation in their country. Findings from this survey will help EDF inform and strengthen their advocacy efforts at an EU level.