Katko to CDC: Expand Vaccine Eligibility to Individuals with Disabilities & Support Staff

March 17, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. John Katko (NY-24) today led an effort to urge the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to expand vaccine eligibility to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities as well as the Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) who provide frontline services and support to these individuals. Rep. Katko led this bipartisan effort alongside U.S. Rep Kathleen Rice (D, NY-4) and was joined by U.S. Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R, PA-1), Jahana Hayes (D, CT-5), Diana Harshbarger (R, TN-1), Steve Stivers (R, OH-13), Steve Cohen (D, TN-9), Thomas R. Suozzi (D, NY-3), and Albio Sires (D, NJ-8).

Analysis from SUNY Upstate and Syracuse University revealed COVID-19 related death rates in New York were 2.4 times higher among individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities than the general state population.Still, under current CDC Guidelines, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities as well as DSPs, who care for high-risk individuals and thereby have the potential to expose such populations to COVID-19, are not recommended to be included for federal Phase 1b and Phase 1c vaccination groups. While New York State recently took action to expand vaccine eligibility to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities as well as the Direct Support Professionals (DSPs), many states have not.  As a result, tens of thousands of individuals with disabilities and DSPs in the U.S. are not yet eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Given the elevated risk individuals with disabilities face and the important role DSPs play, Rep. Katko and the lawmakers are urging the CDC to include these populations in their recommendation for Phase 1b and Phase 1c vaccination groups.

“A recent study from SUNY Upstate and Syracuse University shows that individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are at a greater risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19,” said Rep. Katko. “Despite this information, the CDC has not prioritized vaccines for individuals with disabilities or their support staff, who provide frontline services. That’s why, I’m leading a bipartisan effort to urge the CDC to expand vaccine eligibility to these high risk populations. This is an important step the CDC should take to responsibly and effectively reduce the mortality among individuals with disabilities.”

The full text of the request can be found below:

Dear Dr. Walensky:

We are writing to express our support for individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD), as well as the Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) who provide frontline services and supports, to be included in the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommendation for Phase 1b and Phase 1c vaccination groups due to the high COVID-19 mortality rates among this population. We fear that by not including these individuals with I/DD, as well as their direct support staff, in Phase 1b/c prioritization, the populations may face increased risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19.

Early analysis from Syracuse University revealed COVID-19 related death rates in individuals with I/DD residing in New York were 2.4 times higher than the general state population.  Structural factors, such as limited healthcare access and the tendency to live in co-residencies, greatly contribute to the general poor health experiences of these individuals and the conditions are exacerbated during public health crises such as COVID-19. However, this heightened risk for severe complication or death is not limited to just individuals in congregate settings.  Individuals with I/DD living in settings other than co-residencies face the same increased risks and because of this, they have been forced, in many cases, to stop receiving their normal services and supports which can cause greater exposure. We believe that by ensuring states receive the recommendation to include all individuals with I/DD in Phase 1c, and not just individuals in congregate settings, they will better be able to address the enhanced risks these individuals face. This recommendation should explicitly apply to all persons with I/DD, those living in group homes and other living arrangements.

Direct support professionals for individuals with I/DD are often group home workers and staff or provide services in individual homes or community settings. Despite caring for high-risk individuals and thereby frequently exposing such populations to COVID-19, these support staff are not recommended by ACIP to be in Phase 1b vaccinations with other health care personnel.  DSPs should be recognized as the essential health professionals they are and included in Phase 1b to ensure the individuals they support who are at heightened risk are not further exposed to COVID-19. 

In light of the heightened risk of exposure to COVID-19 among individuals with I/DD and the important role that DSPs play in the health and well-being of people with disabilities whom they support, we urge the CDC to recommend all states include individuals with I/DD regardless of their particular setting and direct support professionals in Phase 1c and Phase 1b, respectively. This important step will help to responsibly and effectively reduce the mortality among the I/DD population and correctly identifies this, an underserved population as a priority.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. 

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