California lags behind other states in prioritizing COVID-19 vaccine for people with disabilities

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Tuesday, February 9, 2021
Californians with disabilities continue push for vaccine priority
California's disabled population under the age of 65 continues to be in the dark about when they'll receive the COVID-19 vaccine, advocates say.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- California's disabled population under the age of 65 continues to be in the dark about when they'll receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Kathleen Kramer lives in Ventura County, where people 75 and up get the vaccine. But she received permission for her brother, who is 74-and-a-half -years-old, to get the shot because he suffers from a severe intellectual and developmental disability. When Kramer arrived at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, her brother was turned away.

"He is autistic and I am his conservatorship. And, they said, 'I'm sorry, we can't do him. He's not 75,' and I thought it was completely unfair. I wasn't trying to take advantage of it," said Kramer.

This comes as states across the country, including Ohio, New York, New Mexico and Oregon are all offering the vaccine to people with disabilities even if they're under 65.

RELATED: Disabled Californians say they've been forgotten by vaccine rollout

Tim Jin has cerebral palsy and is considered high risk for COVID. But he's not yet eligible for the vaccine because of his age. Eight caregivers who help the 45-year-old have received the vaccine, and some are under 65 and healthy. But the person they take care of remains in isolation, terrified of the virus.

"The disability community is never brought up at all. It is definitely is hard for me. I want to be protected, but I'm not getting the answers I should be getting from the government," said Carlos Mitchell, a 45-year-old disabled man who lives in Anaheim.

"We've asked them to prioritize people under 65 as soon as possible because people are dying everyday who don't have access to the vaccine," said Andrew Imparato, the executive director of Disability Rights California.

Imparato serves on the community vaccine advisory committee for the state.

"California was the birthplace of the disability rights movement. We've got a progressive governor, we're one of the wealthiest states in the country," Imparato said. "Why in the world are we lagging behind all these other states?"

On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he's not satisfied with the lack of progress for California's disabled and committed to figuring it out by the end of the week.

"We've got to take care of the most vulnerable and people in the developmentally disabled community with all the unique challenges and opportunities that present them in their lives, these vaccines need to be prioritized, and I'm committing to do that. I just fear that whatever we do will not be enough until the supply is adequate," said Newsom.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, California Secretary of Health and Human Services, told Disability Rights California on Friday that he wants California to be the state that learns the quickest as vaccines are deployed. The advocacy group told Eyewitness News the best way to learn how to do this is to start doing it.