Friends, families and supporters:
The week that was…
I find myself at a loss for words to describe the events of this fateful week. I am hopeful that you are all safe, as ever, and I’m hopeful that while history will mark these days indelibly, we will emerge from them a stronger community, more committed to the principles of democracy. We learn from a Yiddish proverb, the smoothest way is full of stones.
Overshadowed by the chaos of the week was the enormously good news, announced by Maryland Governor Larry Hogan on Tuesday evening, that Marylanders with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) have been named as Phase 1B vaccination priority. See the Washington Post article here. Many of you have taken the time to write letters and e-mails and make phone calls to Governor Hogan and members of his administration. For that effort and for its outcome, thank you so very much! Grassroots advocacy works, and we joined thousands of people across the state in asking that our friends and neighbors with IDD be made a Phase 1 vaccination priority. Governor Hogan and his administration listened and responded, and I hope you’ll take just a few extra minutes to drop him a note of thanks. Expressing gratitude is so very important and so very easy. And, Governor Hogan has earned our gratitude.
So, what does this mean. The announcement Tuesday suggested that Phase 1B in Maryland could start as soon as the end of January (this month!). Fortunately, JFGH has already begun creating our Vaccination Protocols, and preparatory work is well underway. This entails, for example:
Educating people we support and our staff on the vaccine. People rightly ask questions about safety and effectiveness, and it’s our job to make sure we answer those questions. Two weeks ago, we posted our COVID-19 Vaccination Q&A, and we’ve updated it several times already. Please check it out.
- Soliciting consent. Just as with the flu vaccine, there is a consent process associated with the COVID-19 vaccines. We are working with CVS and Walgreens (each of which, unfortunately, have their own consents), as well as, to the extent it’s appropriate, with county departments of health to make sure we have the appropriate consents and that they are reviewed carefully and signed in advance. When the vaccines become available to us, we don’t want to slow the process by scurrying to get consents then.
- Identifying people we support and any staff with medical conditions about which we should be aware. News reports have noted a very small number of people experiencing an allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to the vaccines. While this is easily treatable, we want to make sure we’re aware of and prepared for every circumstance.
At this writing, JFGH has not been assigned a date or range of dates for vaccination. When this is known, we will immediately alert our community. For now, we are busy preparing so that when our time comes, we are ready!
Vaccination news from Virginia is less encouraging. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam held a press conference on Wednesday, but to our disappointment, there was no mention of Virginians with IDD fitting into Phase 1A, 1B or 1C. I’m afraid we still have work to do in Virginia. We’ve updated a letter that you can use or make your own, as well as Governor Northam’s contact information. If you’re a Virginian for whom this issue is important, we invite you to make your voice heard. You can e-mail Governor Northam here or call his office at 804.786.2211.
In the meantime, we remain very alert to the continued impacts of COVID-19 on our community. If I’m honest, in the nearly 10 months of the pandemic here in our community, I am more concerned now than ever. Why? In part, I’m worried that the promise of vaccination will make us less vigilant, less committed to doing what we need to do to protect ourselves and others, and less focused on the realities of this extraordinarily contagious and deadly virus. We can’t let our guard down.
Since 1 December, five (5) more JFGH staff have contracted COVID-19, making a total of 25 since the pandemic began in March. And, one person we support has also recently contracted the virus. We are not out of the proverbial woods by any stretch. And, the virus continues to ravage people with IDD when compared to the general population. In Maryland, the case fatality rate among people with IDD is more than double the rate of the general population of the state. In Virginia, people with IDD are dying from COVID-19 at more than 3X (3.01) the rate among the general population.
Again, we must stay focused and vigilant. As I’ve been saying since those early days of March: Together, we got this!