CUMBERLAND — The Arc Maryland filed a lawsuit Monday alleging Garrett County, the city of Baltimore and four other Maryland counties have engaged in discrimination against people with intellectual and developmental disabilities by denying them opportunities for access to COVID-19 vaccines.
The suit claims the websites the locales use to spread information about COVID-19 vaccines do not include intellectually and developmentally disabled people as eligible for the vaccines under Phase 1B of Maryland’s vaccine plan.
“What we’re trying to do is get some movement in the counties that are named in the suit, so that they stop excluding people with intellectual and developmental disabilities from priority 1B on their health department websites and in their interest forms and pre-registration forms,” said Ande Kolp, Arc executive director. “It’s a shame that we had to take this step to get the kind of movement, but I’m also happy with the responsiveness of the counties to get this done.”
As of Tuesday, the Garrett County Health Department’s website now includes individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities under Phase 1B on its COVID-19 information page.
“Not only do they need to do that, but they need to reach out to their community to make sure the community knows they are in 1B,” said Kolp.
Maryland’s Executive Order and Vaccination Plan does specify that developmentally disabled populations are to be vaccinated in Phase 1B of the plan.
The lawsuit also named Carroll, Queen Anne’s, Somerset and Talbot counties.
“Simply put, this discrimination puts lives at stake,” said Ray Marshall, board president of The Arc Maryland, in a press release. “It is frustrating to have our state recognize people with IDD to be the 1B priority group for the vaccine, only for people with IDD to be denied equitable access to the vaccine from the counties in which they live. We hope this action will result in immediate change for the benefit of all.”
The Arc Maryland is the largest statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to the rights and quality of life of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.
According to the New England Journal of Medicine, studies have found that fatality rates are two to three times greater among people with intellectually and developmental disabilities who test positive for COVID-19 than the general population.
In late January, the state entered Phase 1C of its vaccination plan, which opened eligibility to adults aged 65-74, essential workers in lab services, agriculture, manufacturing, postal service and more. Those in priority groups that fell under previous phases are still eligible.
As of Tuesday, Garrett County had given 6,097, or 21%, of county residents at least a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Another 3,427 people, or 11.8%, had received both doses.
Most weeks, the country receives 600 doses of the Moderna vaccine, which is split between 300 first doses and 300 second doses, county officials said in a news release Monday. Last week, it received the first shipment of 100 doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, which is a one-dose vaccine.
“The recommendation has always been to get your vaccine as soon as you are eligible and appointments are available, regardless of which vaccine is being used at that time,” Health Officer Bob Stephens said in the release. “It may not be possible to choose which kind of vaccine you will get, because availability of each kind will continue to vary and you will be playing a game of chance if you try to wait for a specific kind.”
Around 17.3% of state residents have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 9.5% have received the second dose.
The county has seen 1,848 COVID-19 cases and 60 deaths.