As a professional sick person for almost twenty years, I thought I’d gotten used to being left behind. At age 12 I was diagnosed with Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis, a degenerative liver disease; and Ulcerative Colitis, an irritable bowel disease.
At 14, I had my first liver transplant, and I had another at 25. Then at 30 I had my colon removed. Needless to say, it’s been a rough year, since I’m at a higher risk for serious complications from a COVID-19 infection; early studies show a 20% chance of mortality if I were to get the coronavirus.
Being immunosuppressed, I tend to track epidemics. Ebola, Swine Flu and Bird Flu are only just a blip in the memory of many non-disabled Americans, while for me they were major events sparking discussions with loved ones over how we needed to modify our lives to ensure my safety.
When I discussed my worries about COVID-19 with many around me in January and February of 2020, I was told not to worry about it, that it would be fine, and it would pass quickly. Once COVID-19 started to hit and infections took hold, much of that narrative shifted to only those at high-risk need be seriously worried; it was like getting a cold or the flu and your only real shot at dying was if you were already ill or disabled in some way.
In the past year I’ve heard that all high risk individuals should just stay home. Or that losing their lives is just the price of getting over the pandemic. And many other ableist and cruel assertions.
In short, the solution for many was to leave behind those of us in high risk populations. Nothing new there.
Finally, I’m starting to see the faintest of lights at the end of the tunnel in the slow rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. A lot of friends are texting me their vaccine dates and posting on social media with their vaccine card or a sticker saying they’ve been vaccinated.
Something odd I noticed about this group, however, is that I knew they weren’t over 65, or medical workers, or high risk.
Reporting from greater Minnesota shows that I’m not alone in noticing this. People with the faintest of connections to a vaccine are jumping at any chance to get their shot, and I don’t blame them. We’re living in scary times where we all just want to find some semblance of safety. I may not blame the individual, but it doesn’t stop me from being frustrated and angry at the system.
Some Minnesotans in high-risk groups are being left behind yet again. I’ve stayed at home for nearly a year. And I mean at home — the only other buildings I’ve been inside are my doctor’s office once a month for necessary appointments, my aunt’s empty cabin after a deep cleaning by family and Home Depot once to risk a run for supplies like toilet paper and soap that I couldn’t find elsewhere. I have no clue when that light at the end of the tunnel will become more pronounced.
Vaccine rollout plans have evolved in the past few months but recent guidance from the Department of Health and Human Services recommends placing individuals in high-risk categories in phase 1b, though most states (including Minnesota) haven’t seemed to change their plans.
The latest updates show older Minnesotans and those working in education and child care are getting their place in line, signaling a move from phase 1a. Every vaccine we can get into a member of the community makes Minnesota safer for all of us, but enough isn’t being done to help protect some of the most vulnerable populations in the pandemic.
As always, people with disabilities are fighting to make our voices heard and get prioritizations changed, but there’s only so much we can do when it’s unsafe to leave our homes.
Vaccination rollout in a worldwide pandemic is an unbelievably complex process, but I can’t help but be saddened and deeply worried for myself and others like me. State leaders have had to make a lot of hard decisions, and many Minnesotans need vaccines while supplies are short. But in that process — as is too often the case — some of our most vulnerable Minnesotans at the highest risk for death or serious complications are being left behind.