NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Advocates for the disabled say some Louisianans face challenges getting the COVID-19 vaccine and two offices within the Louisiana Department of Health say they are working to address that.
A local boy stood smiling next to his mother as she was interviewed about his disabilities and the challenges COVID-19 has caused the family.
“My son, John Paul Lorio, he is turning 8 years old this month, but he was born one pound, 12 ounces at 27 weeks and he had a trach for five years, he still has a feeding tube, cerebral palsy, and a shunt,” said Angela Lorio.
He is physically disabled and medically complex says his mother, and she says the COVID-19 pandemic has robbed the family of valuable help provided by others.
“Unfortunately, our lives were turned upside down. We had a full-time nurse and workers thanks to his waivers, he has wonderful services, but we lost all of that because he is so high-risk we can’t have anyone coming into our home who exposed to other people,” said Angela Lorio.
So, she understands the importance of getting coronavirus vaccine shots into the arms of disabled individuals who are old enough to get them.
The Kaiser Family Foundation highlights that concern in a recent report which says “…less attention has been paid to nonelderly people with disabilities who use long-term services and supports (LTSS) but live outside of nursing homes.”
Julie Foster Hagan is Assistant Secretary for Louisiana’s Office for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities. She says people living in group homes were eligible early on to be vaccinated.
“Those who live in group homes or community homes which we have about 3,500 citizens, Louisiana citizens who live in group homes or community, they were all very early on part of our vaccination efforts and they received vaccination in our Tier 1-A similar to the folks in the nursing homes,” said Foster Hagan. “So, early on our state identified the need to prioritize those people with disabilities.”
Advocates say the disabled often have medical conditions that put them more at risk for severe COVID-19 infection and many of them reside outside of nursing homes and group homes in the state.
Dr. Stephen Sauer is Executive Director of ARC of Greater New Orleans which serves hundreds of people with disabilities.
“COVID has really hit the people we support very seriously and so we have continued to support people in their homes as much as possible,” said Sauer.
He says it was difficult for the agency to get access to vaccines up until recently.
“We did eventually partner with DePaul Community Health Center out in New Orleans East and so we had a vaccination block of time and we completed about 70-something vaccinations, second-round of vaccinations just last week and DePaul is working with us to set up another block of time,” said Sauer. “So that’s been the hiccup, the hiccup is that we don’t have an institution for them to come to, we were sort of encouraging people to call on their own, they were calling pharmacies, they were calling various places.” on their own, they were calling pharmacies.”
But disabled people have transportation challenges, and the Louisiana Department of Health acknowledges that and working to reduce the problem.
Robin Wagner is Deputy Assistant Secretary for LDH’s Office of Aging and Adult Services.
“We’re encouraging providers of home and community-services, the folks that go into folks’ homes to help them out to provide that transportation,” said Wagner. “And we are in the process of trying to figure out best strategies for reaching folks who can’t get out of their homes or for whom the transportation barriers remain significant.”
They say it is important to also have people who provide up-close services to the disabled be vaccinated as well.
“Because of the intimate care that those workers provide,” Wagner stated.
Foster Hagan says now more Louisianans who are disabled are eligible to get the shots.
“Those are persons receiving home health and dialysis and people receiving services licensed home and community-based providers and that really captures thousands of people with disabilities, many of them with intellectual and developmental disabilities and our elderly population, as well as those with adult-onset disabilities, and so the folks who receive those services and their staff are currently in the group,” she said.
Wagner says they are also focusing on marginalized communities.
“We’ve looked at kind of our data for the groups that are covered and what we really see is that we are reaching a lot of groups that ordinarily are marginalized,” said Wagner. “And so, we’re very confident that this is an effective way to reach not just people with disabilities but those with disabilities who are also low-income, who are disproportionately minority.”
And hesitancy about the vaccines is also a problem.
“There’s a lot of myths out there and the need for myth-busters,” said Foster Hagan.
John Paul’s parents would love him to get the vaccine because they remain restricted in their outdoor activities for fear of putting him at risk of the virus.
“My husband and I have both received our vaccine and we anxiously awaiting John Paul being able to receive the vaccine,” said Lorio.
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