Group Homes ‘Elbowed Aside’ As COVID-19 Doses Shifted To Mass-Vaccination Sites
ALBANY, N.Y. — Thousands of individuals with disabilities who live in group home settings have seen their rate of vaccinations for coronavirus dwindle as the state has shifted doses to mass-vaccination sites and expanded the number of individuals eligible for the shots.
Roughly 30 percent of the Capital Region’s group home population — about 11,000 individuals with disabilities and staff members who care for them in a 10-county region — have been vaccinated through the first five weeks of the rollout. But when the state shifted to mass-vaccination sites, including one at the University of Albany, those locations were given in some cases 50 percent or more of a region’s doses.
That strategy has affected those who were in the first — or 1A — phase of vaccinations, because the shift was made in conjunction with adding a second phase of eligible individuals that include anyone 65 or older as well as teachers, police officers, grocery and convenience store workers and other essential workers.
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In a letter to New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in mid-January, three leaders of groups representing the interests of individuals with disabilities — New York Alliance for Inclusion & Innovation, New York State Industries for the Disabled and The ARC New York — alerted the administration that their very vulnerable population was being pushed aside as hospital hub systems, initially established to vaccinate the 1A groups, were receiving little or no vaccine.
“With the opening of the state vaccination sites and the re-allocation of vaccine to these sites, this has reduced vaccine supply and availability for the 1A population to the point that appointments have been cancelled the latter half of this past week and through the weekend,” the groups’ letter states. “Not only is this unintended consequence of concern for those in the priority population who have not yet received the vaccine, but it will likely result in 1A designated people having significant difficulty attaining the second vaccine dose in a timely manner.”
On Jan. 15, the Centers for Disability Services in Albany canceled a vaccination clinic that had been scheduled for 170 individuals with disabilities and their caretakers.
In recent days, Cuomo has urged county health departments, hospitals, pharmacies and other vaccine administrators not to schedule any appointments until they have received their allotted doses for the week. That shift came as he blamed the federal government for not sending enough doses to New York, where vaccination appointments are backlogged and stretching into the late spring due to low supplies.
“We were grateful people with developmental disabilities and group home staff were included in 1A, but now they’ve been elbowed aside,” said Michael Seereiter, president and CEO of the New York Alliance for Inclusion & Innovation, which represents nonprofits that support people with developmental disabilities across the state. “It’s an unintended but serious consequence that’s preventing high risk and vulnerable New Yorkers from getting vaccinated.”
Group homes for the people with disabilities have been ravaged by the virus during the pandemic. Cuomo included them in the first phase because it can also be challenging for staff to control and direct members of that population who may not understand social distancing and the need to wear a mask.
A person briefed on the matter said that using the hospital hub system to vaccinate that population, including distributing vaccines to medical staff in their settings, was ideal because many of those individuals have access to public transportation but would not be able to drive themselves to a mass-vaccination site such as the one at the University at Albany.
The hub system, which was highly criticized by county leaders who wanted their local health departments to vaccinate their populations, including the elderly and people with disabilities, received praise from disability advocates. It provided “health equity for people who would not always get health equity,” the person said.
“We prioritized this group from the very beginning,” said Gareth Rhodes, a deputy superintendent at the Department of Financial Services who is helping lead the vaccination rollout for the governor’s coronavirus task force. “It’s not like we stopped prioritizing them; they are still prioritized. We just don’t have enough vaccine to go around.”
© 2021 Times Union
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