How to ensure all people can be reached with vaccination

How to ensure all people can be reached with vaccination
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European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control holds a webinar ‘Sharing good practices for increasing COVID-19 vaccination uptake for socially vulnerable populations in the EU/EEA.

On June 23 EDF was invited to participate in the webinar ‘Sharing good practices for increasing COVID-19 vaccination uptake for socially vulnerable populations in the EU/EEA‘  hosted by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

The aim of the webinar was to share models of good practice and lessons learned from across the Region to improve COVID-19 vaccination coverage among vulnerable groups.  EDF does not embrace the terminology ‘vulnerable groups’, which tends to give the impression of inherent vulnerability of persons with disabilities in a general sense. Persons with disabilities are certainly more at risk of COVID 19 and its consequences based on systematic exclusion, invisibility, and discrimination. It was important for EDF to participate to highlight the work our members are doing to promote equitable access to vaccination, on the basis of free and informed consent of the person.

EDF Director, Catherine Naughton echoed that “the European Disability Forum has been campaigning since before any COVID-19 the vaccination was approved for several important measures to make sure persons with disabilities could be vaccinated.”

Like everyone else, persons with disabilities have been exposed to vaccine information and misinformation. EDF and organizations of persons with disabilities have campaigned for the involvement of persons with disabilities in the vaccination roll-out planning to ensure it is inclusive and accessible to all. We have campaigned for the prioritisation of persons with disabilities, and their support network in the vaccination roll-out, on the basis of free and informed consent to vaccination. This is a wide ranging inclusive public health approach which includes accessible information and outreach, online appointment systems and accessibility of the vaccination venue itself.   Together with the International Disability Alliance we have campaigned also at the global level and this resulted also in guidance from WHO on vaccination and persons with disabilities

Experience of our members: Collaboration at national level

At national and European level our members have been advocating and providing direct support to persons with disabilities to have accessible high quality information on vaccination. They have focused on the level of involvement in planning, accessibility, and inclusiveness of the vaccinations processes. Many actions have been carried out, but it is important to note that through their advocacy, many vaccination centres were made accessible and in specific cases (not globally), persons with disabilities received priority access to vaccination.

  • In Czechia, our members were included in the government’s vaccination task force so they would bring information to the discussion on why and how to reach persons with disabilities.
  • The Croatian Association of Deafblind created information for deafblind persons on vaccination and together with the authorities organised a vaccination meeting point for deafblind people.
  • Our European members, Inclusion Europe and the European Association of Service Providers for Persons with Disabilities (EASPD) created Easy to Read information on the vaccination available in different languages so that persons with intellectual disability would be fully informed of what the vaccination it, with scientifically-based information.
  • The European Down Syndrome Association (EDSA) campaigned very effectively for people with Down Syndrome to be vaccinated as a priority based on research evidence that people with Down Syndrome are disproportionately affected by COVID 19.
  • Autism-Europe also strongly demanded prioritisation of autistic people and their families/carers/support persons, accessible information about vaccination as well as transparency about the vaccination process in order to tackle scepticism and misinformation.
  • Our members in Greece, the National Confederation of Disabled People (NCDP) in cooperation with the University of Athens conducted a research to explore the situation. More than 400 members actively participated. 75.9% of the participants were in favor of vaccination and consider that persons with disabilities and/or chronic diseases are more exposed to the COVID-19, mainly due to social factors. NCDP has also a weekly programme on the Greek parliament TV channel with a constant stream of scientifically grounded information on vaccination.

During the webinar EDF highlighted the invisibility of persons with disabilities living independently in their own home. For instance, persons with Down Syndrome in Ireland were identified through day service providers and some people, not associated with services were off the list. In Belgium the prioritisation of persons with disabilities focused on those in residential facilities – who face greater risks from COVID-19 and other human rights abuses – but many persons with disabilities living at home were not reached with vaccination until later.

Towards an inclusive and accessible health care system

Throughout the whole pandemic persons with disabilities have experienced invisibility, marginalisation and lack of involvement. The European Disability Forum published a report early this year on the impact of the pandemic on persons with disabilities exposing the consequences of years of inequalities, discrimination, and seclusion.

During the webinar became clear the fact that vaccination has been considered a public good, free of charge has also been an important point to achieve universal health coverage for all.

Finally, Catherine Naughton pointed out that the most important factor to improve COVID-19 vaccination coverage among persons with disabilities is making society – including public health care – inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities on an equal basis with other people. In order to be implemented, it is necessary to have an approach including the active participation of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations.

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