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Newsom pledges vaccine priority for people with developmental disabilities

During his visit to San Diego, Governor Newsom said a plan will be unveiled by the end of the week to vaccinate people with developmental disabilities.

SAN DIEGO — For months advocates for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD) have been pushing to make vaccines a priority, and Governor Newsom is hearing their concerns.

On Monday, during a tour of the Petco Park Vaccination Super Station, Newsom was asked about vaccinating the IDD population. “We've got to take care of the most vulnerable and people in the developmentally disabled community,” said Newsom.

The governor pledged to vaccinate California’s 350,000 IDD population.

“It almost made me cry. It was just thrilling to know that the governor recognizes that individuals with developmental disabilities are a high priority and at risk,” said Cindi Harris.

Her sister-in-law is Sally Harris, who has a developmental disability. She is 64 years old and lives on her own with two housemates in La Mesa. Sally’s brother also worries about her not being vaccinated. “People with developmental disabilities often have preexisting conditions, they often don't understand the social distancing rules, and they like people in general,” said David Harris.

The behavioral and physical risks also concern Edward Hershey, Vice President of Operations at Home of Guiding Hands, an El Cajon based non-profit providing housing and programs for 4,000 people with developmental disabilities in San Diego and Imperial Counties.

“People with IDD are three times more likely if they contract COVID to die,” said Hershey.

Currently, caretakers are eligible to receive the COVID vaccine, but the IDD population cannot unless living in a congregate home. Newsom says he and California Health Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly will work on a plan.  

“It's been stubborn and candidly, neither of us are satisfied with the progress in this space,” said Newsom. “We made a commitment to each other just an hour and 45 minutes ago to figure this out once and for all by the end of the week.”

Hershey says once cleared, it’s important that no one falls through the cracks. “That's what my biggest concern is right now, is putting systems in place that can reach out to them, to support them and make it possible for them to get this vaccine,” said Hershey.

He recommends they use current communication systems to spread the word.

“California is unique in their IDD population that we have 21 regional centers spread throughout the California. So that might be a possibility putting it there,” said Hershey.

Sally’s brother says it will be a huge relief once his sister is vaccinated. “When Sally is fully vaccinated, I will just jump for joy because I do worry about her and she's just such a sweet person. And I can't imagine losing my sister,” said David Harris.


COVID-19 risk for developmental disabilities, source CDC.

Resources for Development Disabilities in California, source California Department of Developmental Services.