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'Filled With Fear': Disability Rights Advocates Say An Age-Based Vaccine Line Leaves Them Behind

Safeway pharmacist Preston Young fills a syringe with Moderna COVID-19 vaccination during a drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds on January 13, 2021 in Santa Rosa, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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Disability rights advocates in California are voicing their concerns about the state's decision last week to move to an age-based priority system for the coronavirus vaccine.

State health officials say equity is still a focus of the plan, but advocates for the disabled argue that pushing people who are at higher risk of COVID-19 complications further down the list means that people will die unnecessarily.

"I am filled with fear for myself and others. I also refuse to defend my humanity and prove my deservedness for the vaccine in comparison to other high risk groups, " says Alice Wong, a disabled activist from San Francisco. "High risk is high risk."

Wong posted a Twitter thread that further clarifies her point of view:

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Andy Imparato is the executive director of Disability Rights California and is on the state's vaccine advisory committee. He says concerns like Wong's are valid and should be taken seriously:

"We just want to make sure that people with disabilities who are at the highest risk of getting COVID and dying from COVID are prioritized. And we certainly aren't saying put them in front of people over 65 or other high risk populations. But we've been saying, make sure that we're one of the high risk populations that receives prioritization to get the vaccine.""

State health officials say the switch to the age-based system would come after eligibility is expanded to more essential workers, such as teachers and food and agriculture workers — that's expected to happen sometime in mid-February.

Disability rights advocates aren't the only ones criticising the vaccine rollout — health equity advocates are increasingly concerned about emerging disparities in vaccine distribution when it comes to wealth and race.

California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly was asked Tuesday about these concerns and said that he'd been "spending quite a bit of time over the last week, two weeks working with various stakeholders on this issue."

He said out those conversations with the disability community and people who take care of individuals with serious chronic conditions, they were "beginning to galvanize around a policy that we will announce later that brings together an opportunity to vaccinate those individuals."

As far as when those opportunities will be made available, Ghaly said urrent conversations will determine a timeline.


This story updated with a response from Ghaly.

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