Washington, D.C., December 3, 2022 (PAHO) The pandemic impacted the disability community across the Region, with persons with disabilities finding several barriers delaying or preventing them from getting vaccinated for COVID-19. To overcome inequities in access, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) developed a pilot project in several countries to improve vaccination access.
Across the Americas, 150 million people (15% of the total population) live with a disability. Research indicates that people with disabilities are less likely to be vaccinated against COVID-19 than the general population due to a multitude of issues, including the lack of accessible and clear information and hesitancy. Physical limitations also often prevent them from accessing health services.
“The Covid-19 Pandemic hit the disability community more than most in terms of deaths and wider social impacts – and shone a light on the barriers the community faces just to get vaccinated,” said Antony Duttine, Advisor for disability and rehabilitation at PAHO.
Persons with disabilities may have underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable to complications after a COVID-19 infection. Vaccination to prevent severe disease is therefore crucial.
This background led to the creation of a PAHO-led pilot, funded by the United States Government, to improve access and increase COVID-19 vaccine uptake.
The ongoing project began in May 2022, with PAHO acting as a broker to facilitate dialogue between regional health authorities and communities of persons with disability. The pilot took off in Panama, followed by Trinidad and Tobago and was extended to other six Caribbean countries: Bahamas, Barbados, St. Lucia, Grenada, Dominica and the Dominican Republic.
The mantra of the disability development movement, “nothing about us without us,” guided the design of the project, said Duttine, a physiotherapist by training who works to strengthen health equity among this group.
As a first step, PAHO created an electronic questionnaire in English and Spanish to hear directly from persons with disabilities in the pilot countries about their difficulties, fears, and needs. The results helped to gain a better understanding about the challenges faced by persons with disabilities in the Americas.