Why has the European Union not included people with disabilities as a priority in the vaccination of COVID19? Read our open letter

The Commission’s President Ursula Von der Leyen, in her State of the Union speech stated: ‘Europe needs to continue to handle the COVID-19 pandemic with extreme care, responsibility and unity, and use the lessons learnt to strengthen the EU’s crisis preparedness and management of cross-border health threats’. Persons with disabilities have learned in 2020, and they have learned these lessons the hard way.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the rights of persons with disabilities have been violated in all areas of life. Data has shown that they are at higher risks from the virus. A tragic number of persons with disabilities have died in their homes and in institutions.

And yet, when it comes to the EUs vaccination strategy, persons with disabilities are again invisible: the communication to the European Parliament and Council on ‘Preparedness for COVID-19 vaccination strategies and vaccine deployment’ adopted on 15th of October make no mention to persons with disabilities. On October 28th, the Commission’s recommendation on testing, also completely excludes persons with disabilities.

The Communication from the Commission outlines its general approach to ensuring EU Member States have access to vaccines, at the same time, and in equal number, proportionate to their population. It plans to make agreements with vaccine manufacturers for large scale advanced purchases. It goes on to state that making the vaccination a global public good is a priority for the Commission. This is positive messaging and a vision of strong coordination from the EU. However, we see a deadly flaw.

EDF objects to a vaccintion strategy that excludes persons with disabilities and their support network

High on the list of EU actions is a decision on which ‘groups’ should have priority access to vaccines. The document states that when ‘effective and safe vaccines against COVID-19 will become available (…). Member States will need to make decisions on which groups should have priority access to the COVID-19 vaccines so as to save as many lives as possible. These decisions should be driven by two criteria: to protect the most vulnerable groups and individuals, and to slow down and eventually stop the spread of the disease.’

Why, if this is the case, are person with disabilities, and their support network, not identified as a priority group for vaccination? Why are family carers, interpreters, and guides for persons with disabilities not prioritised? Why are personal assistants or people working in support services for persons with disabilities not identified as essential workers and/or as workers unable to physically distance?

The list of population groups to consider for priority access to vaccination makes no mention of persons with disabilities. This is another proof of the invisibility of the over 100 million persons with disabilities living in the European Union. This is a proof of a deadly failure to learn the lessons of COVID 19.

Why should persons with disabilities, and their support network, have priority access to vaccination?

Persons with disabilities make up about 15% of every population. They are a very heterogenous group of people. By virtue of their disability there are a range of reasons they are more endangered by COVID-19. The reasons include some persons with disabilities…

  • Carry out their daily activities with a personal assistant, interpreters or other support persons- therefore physical distancing is not possible or very restricting.
  • Forced to live in congregated settings where infection rates are very high (institutions, psychiatric hospital, refugee camps)
  • May have pre-existing health conditions or be at an older age that place them at a higher risk to be infected by COVID-19.
  • Have other health conditions that require more access to health services and therefore are in public places which creates infection risk.
  • Face discrimination in access to healthcare and life saving treatment.
  • Do not get access to understandable and accessible public health advice.
  • Live in poverty and this increases all health-related risks, including to COVID-19.
  • Belong to other marginalised groups and this increases discrimination and risks to be infected by COVID-19- for example women and girls with disabilities, Roma persons with disabilities, non-white persons with disabilities, refugees with disabilities have been at an higher risks of getting and dying from COVID-19.

Open letter to the European Institutions

We call on the European Commission, the Parliament, and the Council, to include persons with disabilities and their representative organisations in the planning for vaccination strategies, and for persons with disabilities, and their support network to be given priority access to safe and reliable vaccinations, free of charge, when they are available.

Concretely, they should adopt the following recommendations:

  • COVID-19 vaccination must be defined as a global public good, and made free of charge to all people.
  • Persons with disabilities, and their support network must be offered priority access to vaccination; personal assistants, family careers, and persons working in disability related services should be considered as essential workers.
  • Specific attention must be paid to ensure sites where vaccinations are delivered are accessible and all information campaigns must be inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities.
  • All electronic information systems related to vaccination must collect data disaggregated by age, gender and disability, and web-based services should also be fully accessible, while ensuring the respect for private life and confidentiality of health related information.
  • Organisations of persons with disabilities must be properly resourced to become partners in the roll-out of information campaigns, for instance by reaching out to the most marginalised people and ensure their messages are clear, inclusive and accessible.

Check here the open letter from Yannis Vardakastanis, President of EDF below

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