Quebec – COVID-19 The great forgotten people of vaccination: people with disabilities and those living with a mental health problem

Living with disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, developmental disability or mental health disorder, these people all have in common that they are highly vulnerable and endure, in complete ignorance of the government, disproportionate impacts of the pandemic.

However, as early as last spring, the WHO was already anticipating this situation and released the document entitled Considerations for people with disabilities to be taken into account in the COVID-19 outbreak to encourage countries to take rapid action to ensure that people with disabilities can access healthcare services equitably during this health crisis. Moreover, the Government of Canada has followed suit by reminding the provinces of the importance of “being extra vigilant to protect the rights of people with disabilities during this period […], since they face vulnerabilities and challenges that are unique and heightened in times of pandemic ”.

However, after an odious triage protocol for people with disabilities which was finally modified, after the few additional dollars granted to home attendants and community groups who are struggling to support these vulnerable populations, the indifference of the Government of Quebec against people with disabilities continues, this time as part of the vaccination campaign.

Even though the people we represent are at increased risk of contracting or having a severe form of COVID-19, the government still refuses to give them a priority. In fact, on February 18, the Quebec Immunization Committee (CIQ) issued an additional opinion on the vaccination strategy and maintained the order of prioritization previously selected.

Yet, in addition to the underlying chronic diseases they are more likely to have, several factors increase the risk of people with disabilities of contracting, being hospitalized or dying from COVID-19, including:

The nature of some disabilities can make people more susceptible to infection. For example, visually impaired people who must touch objects for support or for information and people who have a developmental disability or have difficulty following public health guidelines on physical distancing may be at greater risk. ;
People with disabilities living in residential long-term care facilities, group homes, or assisted living facilities may be at increased risk of contracting COVID-19 due to proximity to other people living in the community;
People with disabilities who interact with multiple healthcare providers are more likely to contract COVID-19 due to increased exposure;
Restrictions on visitors and support persons in hospitals, long-term care homes, and collective and individual dwellings reduce transmission of the virus, but may pose a risk to people with disabilities who need it. assistance in communicating their symptoms and personal care choices. It must be taken into account that social isolation can affect the health and physical, social, mental and emotional well-being of people with disabilities.
The loss of important services and supports can also affect the health and well-being of people with disabilities and can even lead to regression in some people.
The World Health Organization (WHO) also estimates that people with severe mental disorders have a reduced lifespan of 10 to 20 years compared to the general population, often due to concomitant undiagnosed physical conditions. An article published in The Lancet Psychiatry describes the specific morbidity and mortality risks that affect people with mental health disorders when exposed to the COVID-19 virus.

To respect the principle of equity, the vaccine for COVID-19 must be allocated according to the degree of vulnerability of each and the existing disparities within the population. Age is certainly not the only criterion of vulnerability. Elsewhere in the world, priority has been given to a large proportion of people with disabilities.

Mr. Prime Minister, the time has come to respect what is put forward by the Government of Canada and the WHO, by taking the necessary actions and decisions to protect people with disabilities, including as part of the vaccination campaign. It is high time to put people with disabilities on your priority list.