I have a disability. Because of this, I receive care in my home from up to six different PSWs every day, some of who work for multiple agencies. Yet, I can’t get the COVID-19 vaccine. I want a shot.
Groups currently being vaccinated includes seniors, First Nations, and those who receive ongoing home-care from personal support workers (PSWs) and other health professionals. Community-based PSW care is offered in a few ways. One is congregate settings, in which people share common areas, and includes retirement homes and group homes. Staff at these locations have been getting vaccinated since early March and the Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) is planning to send mobile vaccine clinics to each location to vaccinate residents. As well, home-care can be provided in your own home. The LHIN will send out a letter to those individuals, which must be shown at a vaccine clinic in order to get the shot. No letter means no vaccine.
I belong in neither group. I live independently in the community and receive help in my apartment from an agency that also helps other tenants in the building. Similar to a group home or retirement home, the agency uses the same PSW staff to provide services to the same people. Therefore, the LHIN has classified it as congregate care. Not exactly accurate, but not exactly wrong, either.
Quite frankly, I don’t care what you call me, as long as I get the vaccine.
In the early days of the pandemic PSWs working in nursing homes were restricted to only one facility, to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. PSWs working in community care have remained able to work for multiple agencies and in multiple locations. For the past year, providers and recipients of community-based care have held their collective breath, waiting for the spark that would ignite an uncontrollable outbreak. My excitement started to build when the PSW staff I see every day started to get vaccinated in the first week of March. Perhaps we’ll be safe from that outbreak.
Three weeks later, I am still fighting to get the vaccine. There has been exactly zero news about that magical mobile clinic and no letter.
I meet the eligibility criteria for the vaccine, but I can’t get it.
This is just one of the many occasions during the pandemic in which people with disabilities have been forgotten or excluded.
Early on, a leaked draft of provincial ICU triage protocol specifically excluded people with certain disabilities from life-saving care in case of rationed ventilators. The revised protocol has not been made public. Sit with that for a moment. We don’t know who would get a ventilator in case of full ICUs, or how that decision would be made. Material was leaked again, showing that major problems of a similar nature remain. It sends a very clear message that those of us who live with disability are dispensable.
People with disabilities received minimal (and much delayed) financial aid. While the federal government was handing out aid to businesses and the unemployed, people claiming the Disability Tax Credit received a one-time payment of $600 — and not until July, 2020.
And now, many of us can’t get vaccinated, even though we are eligible. The ARCH Disability Law Centre has identified significant barriers to vaccination of disabled people. Despite qualifying, many in this group have not been able to access the vaccine.
It is frustrating, infuriating and exhausting. Many in the disabled community are trying to bring mainstream attention to the issue, but with little traction. One exasperated person who is homebound due to disability has been driven to issue a challenge under the Charter of Rights simply to access a vaccine.
Living with a disability is rarely easy, but the last year has been especially tough as the disabled community has consistently been excluded and seemingly forgotten. There’s a word for it: ableism — the devaluing of and discrimination against people with disabilities. The pandemic has ripped away the polite veneer, revealing just how little people with disabilities are considered. Over and over, we have had to fight for services and assistance, and even for our lives to be considered equally.
All I want is my shot.