Mixed messages from health unit about vaccines for adults with disabilities worry advocates

Advocates for adults living with intellectual disabilities are concerned about when that segment of the population will get vaccinated for COVID-19 after getting mixed-messages from the province and the Middlesex-London Health Unit.

Caregivers, agencies contacted the Middlesex-London Health Unit and province for answers

Advocates for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities fear their loved ones will get left behind. (The Associated Press)

Advocates for adults living with intellectual disabilities are concerned about when that segment of the population will get vaccinated for COVID-19 after getting mixed-messages from the province and the Middlesex-London Health Unit. 

"Like everyone else, we've been waiting to find out where our population and our staff fit in with the vaccine rollout," said Cheryl Enns, the manager of the LifeSkills Centre, which provides programs for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

"The province released on their website this past weekend, the full list of Phase Two, and on there were individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We were under the impression that we were in the latter half of Phase Two,  behind our 65-plus crowd and those with extreme health conditions." 

But when caregivers contacted the health unit about their loved ones, they were told they weren't eligible, Enns said.

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"They were told they were not on the list for Phase Two and that they would be part of the general public in Phase Three, which contradicts completely what the province is saying," Enns said.

"It's frustrating because this is a population that has compromised immune systems, many have dual diagnosis, they live in group homes, they come to programs, there is staff that are travelling between homes, they have support workers coming in." 

Phase 2 in April

The provincial webpage for Phase Two of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout lists those who work with people in congregate settings and those with intellectual disabilities as being eligible.

Dr. Chris Mackie, the region's medical officer of health, said Phase Two should begin around the beginning of April. 

He said those in Phase Two do not need to call the health unit. But officials will have to triage which populations will get to go first, second or third during the second stage of the rollout, he said.

"The reality is, and we need people to be aware, that we won't be able to vaccinate or book people in Phase Two right away," Mackie said. "We've been doing tens of thousands of vaccinations in Phase One, and Phase Two we're talking about many tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands. We're going to have to break it down to the early, mid- and end of Phase Two." 

When that will happen isn't clear, but those will be asked to book will have to do so through the vaccine website or by calling the vaccine booking hotline. 

Enns and other advocates for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and their caregivers, say it's important that the population not be left behind. 

"As an industry, developmental services as a whole have not been given direction about what we should do during this pandemic, and we've really felt forgotten," Enns said. 

"To see this segment of society once again basically ignored in the middle of a pandemic, it's unacceptable," she said. 

"I've been a strong advocate for my intellectual and developmental disability clients, and we're going to fight for it because we believe they should be in this this phase, in Phase Two." 

Enns has contacted two London MPPs, who say they are working with the LifeSkills Centre to figure out a way to resolve the mixed messages.