Disabled people need to be prioritized for the vaccine

Disabled people need to be prioritized for the vaccine. And the fact that they aren’t is horrifying.

If I sound repetitive by this point, it’s because this is basically all I can think about. Every single day I wish that I was able to get the vaccine, and that my friends could. That other high risk people who are terrified could. The way America is handling the vaccine rollout is shameful.

When the pandemic started, we were bombarded with messages of ‘stay calm, only the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions are at risk of dying from Covid’. We’ve since learned that is not the case, but it still leads you to wonder – if disabled people are just as high risk as those 65 and older, why are we not being prioritized like older Americans are?

It feels like such a cruel joke that all I’ve been hearing for a year is how abled and healthy people shouldn’t have to put their lives on hold if they’re not high risk.

Even people in my own family have been voicing their ableist opinions. Since last March, it’s been ‘if YOU’RE afraid, YOU stay home, but we shouldn’t have to.’ Or it’s been ‘I can survive it so I’m willing to take the risk, you should only have to stay in if you’re high risk.’

The blatant selfishness and arrogance aside, if that’s the belief, why shouldn’t I be at the front of the line for a vaccine? We all seem to be in agreement that disabled people are more at risk than abled people. And apparently, we should be the only ones trapped at home during the pandemic. So why shouldn’t disabled people be among the first to get the vaccine that way we can get back to our lives as well?

In many ways, disabled people are suffering more than abled people are with ongoing isolation.

They require access to things that right now they’re cut off from. They can’t safely interact with caregivers, they can’t go to work, they can’t go to the doctor to receive the treatments they need. In this current situation, disabled people are forced to choose between two life threatening options – do I forego the care and treatments I need to survive, or do I risk my life catching Covid (which will likely kill me) in order to get what I need? It’s horrific, and it shouldn’t be happening.

I’m lucky in that my caregiver is my mother who I already live with. I’m not completely alone, although we are isolating. At least we have each other, because not all disabled people are that lucky. I still have help every single day and I never have to worry about her exposing me to covid because she’s not leaving the apartment either. My job was already remote before the pandemic started, so I didn’t even have to worry about losing my job.

That being said, I’ve been forced to stop going to the doctor.

I’ve been having struggles with my stomach for the better part of a year. Nausea and stomach cramps kick in with no warning, sometimes for days at a time. I don’t know what causes it, I assume stress and a less than ideal diet play a role. But even on days when I start to worry there might be something else going on, I can’t consider going to the doctor to get it checked out. Whatever it is, it’ll have to wait. I can’t risk catching covid for an appointment.

My prescription for my glasses is 4 years old, and I had planned to go to the eye doctor early 2020. Well, that didn’t happen. Now on top of that, one of my pairs of glasses broke. Thankfully I have a second pair, although I don’t like them and find them uncomfortable. But they’ll work for now, because there’s no way I’m going to sit in a tiny room just for new glasses that I can live without.

I’m constantly praying nothing happens to my wheelchair. That the batteries hold out and nothing serious breaks. Getting wheelchair repairs means exposing myself to a stranger, someone who may or may not take covid seriously and I’ll have no way of knowing which side they land on. I’d sooner buy a cheap computer chair and have my mom roll me from room to room when needed. It’s not like I’m going anywhere anyway.

So, for right now, I’m technically okay. But I’m under immense stress because if anything at all goes wrong, I’m screwed. I’ll either have to live with whatever crisis indefinitely, or potentially expose myself to covid. That kind of thing doesn’t exactly do any favors for your mental health.

But the biggest twist of the knife is that if you are disabled and you catch Covid, you don’t just have to worry about trying to recover.

You have to worry that you’ll die because doctors are rationing care and decided you’re not worth saving. Disabled people already face discrimination in healthcare, especially if you’re not white. If it’s deemed that you’re harder to save or that your quality of life is low, you’re in danger of getting turned away.

The fact that someone could take 5 minutes to look at me and decide that my life isn’t worthy is terrifying. In a way that leaves me struggling to even find the words for. It’s why I always try to emphasize the fact that ableism isn’t just rude or hurtful, it’s dangerous. At times, it’s fatal. If an ableist doctor were to see my wheelchair and my disabled body, that could mark the end of my life. They wouldn’t care about my college degree or my friends or my hopes or dreams. My existence could be boiled down to the misbelief that all disabled people have a low quality of life. And that’d be it.

Doctors justifying rationing care talk about the lack of resources. I understand that healthcare workers are struggling to do their best under impossible circumstances. I know they’re continually traumatized due to this pandemic. And for several months, they’ve been telling us that there aren’t enough beds and ventilators to go around. One of the reasons disabled people could be denied lifesaving care is because they require “too much” time and resources once they have covid. Shouldn’t we be rushing to get disabled people vaccinated so we don’t run into that problem? Instead of letting them get sick AND letting them die?

It’s also worth noting that a lot of places are allowing caregivers get the vaccine before disabled people.

So we can be the proxy that gets an abled person the vaccine, but we ourselves can’t. Even though they’ve warned that it’s likely you can still spread covid after you’ve been vaccinated. It’s simultaneously baffling to me and completely unsurprising.

This far into the pandemic, I feel like there’s no way to win. People don’t want to stay home. Wearing a mask is out of the question for many. Anti-vaxxers are being extremely vocal, and more people seem to be joining their absurd stance. There’s a shortage of the vaccine, even though there shouldn’t be. I can’t get a vaccine, and have no idea when it’ll even be available to me. And even though the number of covid deaths keep climbing, it seems like nothing changes. People are still going out to dinner and parties, disabled activists are still going unheard. It’s just… pretty bleak.

Disabled people have been ignored this entire pandemic. We’re chalked up as an acceptable loss. Our deaths are treated as inevitable rather than preventable. But disabled lives aren’t insignificant or unimportant. We matter too. Disabled people deserve to survive and live our lives. We need access to the vaccines. Now. Not in several months. Right now.



1 thought on “Disabled people need to be prioritized for the vaccine”

  • Reading your post has been a real eye-opener. I am so sad, and also angry, about this situation. Trump refused to buy millions more doses of the Pfizer vaccine which could be saving lives. Why? Trump was only interested in lining his own pockets — his administration (read Trump) was totally corrupt and inept. When I moved to the States with my parents from Europe as a teenager, I believed America was not only the land of opportunity, but of honesty, compassion, fairness, high standards. The Trump administration has stomped all these ideals into the ground. I have hopes again for the future now that we have a decent man in the Oval Office. I hope President Biden can clean up and make some sense of the mess he has inherited. Definitely, disabled people should be among the first to receive the vaccine — they have so much more to battle than the rest of us. Disabled people not only earned and deserve to be in front for the vaccine, but it also makes sense all around. This was an excellent post, Karly Joy.

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