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People with intellectual and developmental disabilities have been significantly impacted by the public health emergency created by COVID-19, in Tennessee, showing a death rate three times higher than the population. Here in Tennessee, we take tremendous pride in being the first state to prioritize people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the first phase of vaccine distribution. The result is that hundreds of individuals in this community and their support staff have already received at least one dose of the vaccine.
Many people with disabilities have underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable to serious complications, and sometimes it can be difficult for them to understand the importance of handwashing, mask wearing, or social distancing.
Those considerations were a factor when the Tennessee Department of Health collaborated with the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities to determine the vaccination priority of persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and their direct care providers. The result of this collaboration is that persons with IDD, aged 18 and older, who do not live independently are eligible to receive the vaccine in phase 1A1.
The collaboration between DIDD, the Department of Health, the local health departments, and the agencies and support coordinators who support people with disabilities has been critical to our efforts. While no process is perfect, we are doing our best to remove barriers and ensure that this prioritized population has the awareness and the access to make a decision about the vaccine that is best for them or their family member.
Long before I became Commissioner, I became Kinsley’s father. She is 14 years old, has cerebral palsy, and is the person who inspires me every day to try to improve the lives of Tennesseans with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. For many people with disabilities, any disruption in their daily routines can bring both behavioral and health concerns. The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged them, their families and their caregivers tremendously. These are challenges I know personally. This is a community that I have the privilege to be part of. It is my hope that through our vaccination efforts, we are helping people find a sense of peace, relief and a bit of normalcy. Tennessee will continue to find creative ways to lead the nation in our vaccination efforts and delivering innovative services to Tennesseans with disabilities.
Brad Turner serves as Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.