Advocates calling for adults with Down syndrome to get vaccinated sooner

Published: Feb. 9, 2021 at 6:25 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina health officials say adults with Down syndrome are expected to be able to get vaccinated in late spring.

Advocates say that’s too late and they’re pushing for them to get the vaccine right now.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people with Down syndrome are at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

Parent Ken Leach says his son, Corey, who has Down syndrome, isn’t working at his Food Lion job so they can protect him from the virus.

“For Corey it’s really one of the things he misses most, he hasn’t gone to work in a year,” Leach said.

A study out of the United Kingdom says people with Down syndrome have a 10 times higher risk of dying from the virus.

In South Carolina, they’re in Phase 1-C which is the group that includes underlying health conditions. State health leaders say while they expect the phase to begin in late spring, it’s subject to change due to vaccine availability, demand, and provider participation.

“We’re not asking for special treatment per say, but just logical compassionate treatment for a group that evidence clearly shows is at a much higher risk than the rest of the population,” Leach said.

The founder of the Down Syndrome Association of the Lowcountry and parent Dr. Elizabeth Pilcher says people with Down syndrome including her son are more at risk due to factors like an impaired immune system and premature aging. Pilcher is also on the Charleston County Disabilities Board. She says factors like obesity and diabetes also increase their risks.

“They’re not often able to advocate for themselves and they are cherished family members just like your grandmother or grandfather,” Pilcher said. “For that reason we want them to be able to move up to the category where they belong.”

She’s says their risk factors are the same, if not greater, than those who are 65 and older.

“An adult with Down syndrome who’s 45 years old might be more comparable to that of a 65-year-old person without Down syndrome.”

As for Corey, he’s hoping for the vaccine sooner than later.  It’ll be a step closer to getting back to work.

“Why are we overlooking this? I hope it’s not because we don’t value these lives,” Leach said. “I hope it’s because they just haven’t considered well enough.”

State health officials say they plan to follow the CDC’s recommendations that people with underlying medical conditions be vaccinated in phase 1C. They say the CDC includes Down syndrome on their list of medical conditions in this category.

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