JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Thousands of Tennesseans with disabilities have already been able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the state’s Commissioner of the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. This is in part due to the state prioritizing people with certain disabilities in the first phase of distribution.
Commissioner Brad Turner paid a visit to a Northeast Tennessee nonprofit on Tuesday. He said the state has led the way in ensuring people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) could be in the first phase of vaccinations.
Individuals with IDD aged 18 and older who do not live independently were eligible in the 1a1 phase.
According to the CDC, many people with disabilities have diabetes, cancer, heart disease, or obesity -conditions that may put someone at higher risk of severe illness due to COVID-19.
“The mortality rate is three and half times as high for Tennesseans with disabilities as it relates to COVID. So there are hundreds of Tennesseans with disabilities in this local area that have received the vaccine, and there are thousands state-wide,” said Turner.
Turner visited Core Services of Northeast Tennessee, a nonprofit providing a range of services to people with intellectual disabilities. He said this population has been among the hardest hit with unemployment during the pandemic.
“Our population especially has seen a really negative impact on their employment opportunities, and specifically with the way visitation works. Sometimes not being able to see family and friends because they can’t get out,” he said.
On Tuesday, Core Sevices’ Executive Director Susan Arwood said most of the people they support have already received both vaccine doses. This includes 34-year-old Bradley Parks.
“The only thing I did was go to work and come back home,” Parks said of his time during the pandemic.
“We couldn’t go nowhere or nothing, [because of] COVID. So once I got the shots, we started going out slowly,” he said.
Support staff to individuals with IDD were also eligible under phase 1a1 in Tennessee.
Ernest Ollivares, a direct support professional, received the vaccine back in January. Ollivares said the vaccination has been a relief as he provides support to Parks.
“He has a valuable job working at Lowe’s, and he provides a needed service, even though the pandemic. So it was very important. It’s like a new sense of freedom, it’s like we’ve been set free,” said Ollivares.
More people with disabilities involving high-risk comorbidities and their caregivers can receive vaccinations when phase 1c opens on Monday. Turner said phase 1c includes parents of medically fragile children and parents with children in the Katie Beckett waiver program.