Adults with disabilities in Minnesota to get COVID-19 vaccine in different phases

Hundreds of people with disabilities in Minnesota are among the first wave of individuals to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

But many more, who live alone or in private residences with family members, are unsure of whether or not they’ll be included in the first phase.

The Minnesota Department of Health vaccination plan directs adults with disabilities who live in group homes and other congregate living settings to have access to the vaccine after health care workers and long-term care residents and staff.

"This is a game-changer," Sue Schettle, CEO of ARRM, a trade association that advocates on behalf of people with disabilities, said. "We are certainly thrilled at the fact that we’ve actually made the cut for the first distribution plan."

However, the guide does not specify whether people with disabilities who live outside those facilities will have access as early as others.

"They are not included in this round, that’s my understanding," Schettle said.

Phil Chase, whose adult son, Steven, lives with him and his wife, said they have not heard any information at this point on timing.

"I haven’t been able to tell him anything positive yet about when he’ll be in line," Chase said.

For Steven, talk of the vaccine and the promise that it will be here is what keeps him going, according to his dad.

"It’s really keeping their energy up because they’re looking forward to getting back to normal," Chase said. "We’ve hunkered down this long, we can hunker down some more."

For people with disabilities, the vaccine is critical. Studies show they are more susceptible to death from COVID-19 than the general population, Schettle said.

"A lot of people with disabilities have underlying medical conditions," she said.

Not only will the vaccine protect them, but it also means many will be able to return to day programs and employment opportunities that they’ve been missing out on for months.

Opportunity Partners, an adult day service provider, has been operating at 50% capacity since August.

CEO Bill Schultz said many clients were hesitant to return then, even with strict safety protocols in place.

"A good majority of folks come from group homes, probably well over 50%," Schultz said. "I think that will give them a level of comfort that they can come back."