Advocates are urging the state to provide vaccine doses for individuals with disabilities. Courtesy of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Office

Greene County officials are joining their Dutchess County counterparts in a call for greater vaccine availability to residents with disabilities.

In a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro implored the governor to be more inclusive with the vaccination rollout.

“Recent reports of reductions in COVID-19 vaccine allotments for group homes and facilities that serve individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, due to the state prioritizing supplying its own mass vaccination sites, are deeply troubling,” Molinaro wrote. “It is yet another example of how individuals with disabilities are not prioritized in this state, and how, despite the obvious need to protect these individuals given the unique challenges they face — their urgent need goes unmet.”

Greene County Legislator Matt Luvera, R-Catskill, encouraged residents to show their support for Molinaro’s letter.

“I would like to request that Greene County residents fill out this petition to Governor Cuomo to assist Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro to advocate to have those with developmental disabilities receive the vaccine,” Luvera said in a statement. “The priorities of the state government are out of order and we need those most vulnerable to receive this vaccination.”

In his letter Molinaro asks that the governor ensure group homes and congregate-care facilities that serve this population have access to the vaccine and that certified day programs are included in the definition of congregate-care sites.

About one-third of the clients served at Coarc in Hudson participate in day-program services and live at home, so they are not yet eligible for the vaccine, Coarc CEO Kenneth Stall said.

“A lot of people attending are in day programs [and] were living at home with families and not included in the first priority group,” Stall said. “That is absolutely an issue.”

Of the 91 clients that are classified as living in congregate-care settings or group homes, 56 have received their first dose of the vaccine, 11 have appointments pending and 24 either declined to be vaccinated or were unsure if they wanted to be vaccinated, Stall said.

There is no indication of when these individuals in day programs will become eligible, Stall said.

“Our provider associations, Arc New York and New York Alliance, have written letters to the governor asking them to include this group of people living at home with families as soon as possible, but we have no information at this point,” Stall said.

Arc New York President John Kowalczyk wrote to Cuomo in December, advocating that these populations not be forgotten.

“As we partner to develop a thoughtful vaccination program to combat this pandemic and ensure the safety of our most vulnerable and high-risk citizens,” Kowalczyk wrote. “New Yorkers with intellectual and developmental disabilities must not be forgotten.”

Facilities that serve the intellectually disabled face an immense risk of the virus, Molinaro said.

“These facilities continue to suffer from the ravages of this pandemic as the greatest protections we have are not always practical for many of these individuals, as some struggle to understand social distancing and have difficulty wearing masks,” Molinaro wrote. “These are unique challenges that have contributed to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on individuals living with disabilities.”

Individuals with intellectual disabilities are about four times as likely to become infected, Kowalczyk wrote.

“These vulnerable New Yorkers are our families. Our loved ones,” he wrote. “They are nearly four times more likely to contract COVID-19, two times as likely to die.”

The increased risk is also associated with a lack of prioritization to secure personal protective equipment for these facilities, Kowalczyk wrote.

“This needs to change,” he wrote. “Our pandemic response can no longer leave vulnerable citizens neglected and unprotected. The state must ensure priority vaccination for New Yorkers with intellectual and developmental disabilities and the dedicated staff who serve them.”

Vaccination would help ensure this population can receive in-person support services, which many have had to do without because of the pandemic, Molinaro wrote.

“For many individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, technology is a poor substitute for in-person services and supports,” he wrote. “Ensuring access to a vaccine is a means to not only protect this population and those that serve them, but also ensure high-quality care and services can be provided safely.”

COARC has successfully implemented the use of telehealth services, Stall said.

“Certainly the hope is that we will slowly begin to open up some of the activities that they were able to do prior to the pandemic,” he said.

The Dutchess County Department of Behavioral and Community Health vaccinated 60 residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities that are served by local agencies on Jan. 25.

With the threat of a $100 million fine looming overhead for unauthorized use of vaccines, Molinaro asked the governor to grant local municipalities greater capacity to serve these communities.

“We must prioritize those whose voices are so often ignored or unheard by ensuring this at-risk population is vaccinated and as quickly as is possible,” he wrote. “I am asking not only for your help but the freedom and flexibility to help in any way I can.”

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