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Vaccine eligibility expands for people with disabilities

Flickr Creative Commons/Sanofi Pasteur

After months of organizers fighting for access, people with disabilities will become eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines starting next Monday.

The state announced Friday that anyone over the age of 16 living with a disability can get a vaccine in the next phase, starting March 22.

“This was relieving. We are grateful that the state made this decision,” says Dessa Cosma, executive director of Detroit Disability Power. It's one of the groups that’s been calling on state and local leaders to expand vaccine access to the disability community.

“And it took a lot of organizing from dozens of disability rights and justice organizations and thousands of Michigan residents,” Cosma says. “And so we are thankful to everyone who had a part in making this happen.”

The effort already paid off in the city of Detroit and in Macomb County. Detroit started offering vaccines to people with disabilities more than a month ago. Macomb County started today.

And while Cosma says it was welcome news for the eligibility to expand statewide on March 22nd, she still wants the state to do more to track the impact of the virus on the disabled community.

“We still don’t have a clear picture of how many people with disabilities contracted or were lost to COVID,” Cosma says. “And that’s because the state has not been adequately tracking our population.”

A spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services says the state has identified 3,950 people with disabilities in Michigan who contracted COVID. The state has not identified how many people with disabilities died as a result of the virus, but there are efforts underway for the state to get an estimate.

The state is also not tracking the vaccine rollout based on disability status, says MDHHS spokesperson Lynn Sutfin.

Cosma points to the city of Detroit, which lists how many people with disabilities have received the vaccine. As of Monday, Detroit reported on its dashboard that 978 people with disabilities have gotten the vaccine.

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Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Radio’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Radio since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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