New data suggests that COVID-19 infections among people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and the staff who serve them drop dramatically once they are eligible for vaccines.

In Tennessee — the first state to make COVID-19 vaccines broadly available to residents with developmental disabilities — there was a decline of over 80% in infections among these individuals and their support staff between December 2020 and February 2021.

The figure comes from the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and accounts for people served through the state’s three Medicaid-funded programs for those with developmental disabilities as well as staff working for community-based services providers.

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The state moved people with developmental disabilities into phase 1a1 of its vaccine distribution plan in December, allowing this population and their support staff to be in the very first group to get the shots.

By the end of February, state officials said that COVID-19 cases among people with developmental disabilities declined over 84% while cases among staff dropped nearly 83%.

“People with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Tennessee have a higher chance of dying from COVID, and it was important to Gov. (Bill) Lee and this state to ensure they were prioritized for vaccination as soon as possible,” said Brad Turner, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. “It’s clear that this decision saved lives.”

Vaccination is allowing people with disabilities to return to work, community activities and visits with family and friends after a “very isolating” year, Turner said.

Across the country, vaccine access remains spotty for people with developmental disabilities, varying from one locale to another, even as research shows that individuals with such diagnoses are at higher risk of adverse outcomes from COVID-19.

However, President Joe Biden recently said that he will direct states to make all adults eligible for COVID-19 vaccines by May 1.

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