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End In Sight For Some Adults At High Risk For COVID-19

Tana Weingartner
Dena Lemon recieves the COVID-19 vaccine during a clinic at LADD, Inc on Jan. 23, 2021.

"I'm scared," she says. "I don't like needles." Dena Lemon holds her mother's hand, takes a deep breath, and closes her eyes as a medical assistant quickly and efficiently administers the COVID-19 vaccine.

"OK, it's all over. Did you feel it?" Marlena McCloud asks, receiving an emphatic "No" from Lemon.

Lemon is supported by LADD - an agencythat empowers adults with developmental disabilities, assisting with housing, employment and other means of independence - and falls into Phase 1A of Ohio's vaccine distribution plan. She is one of several hundred people LADD is helping get their first of two shots by Jan. 27.

"The city of Cincinnati Health Department has been working closely with us to ensure that we have enough vaccines to get the individuals that we work with that are part of the first 1A group vaccinated," says Brian Hart, LADD's chief strategy officer.

Outdoor heaters pumped warm air across a cold sidewalk as a people trickled in and out of LADD's offices turned impromptu clinic on a recent Saturday.

Anne Gerhardt exits the building after receiving the vaccine and waiting 15 minutes to ensure she'd didn't have any side effects or reactions. She'd been nervous but says it went well. "The process was really good and the vaccine was good," she says from behind a cheery flamingo-print mask.

Her advice to others waiting to get the shot? "Just be yourself and take a deep breath and just be you."

The pandemic has been especially hard for people supported by LADD and similar agencies. Being at higher risk for the virus means they haven't been able to get out and do all the things they're used to doing. They have to be more cautious than most.

"It's been a while since I've been to places," Gerhardt says.

Most of all, she's looking forward to meeting her cousin's new baby once she's fully vaccinated. "I'm very, very excited."

While some people who receive minimal support from LADD fall into lower priority groups, Hart explains the "vast majority" are in Phase 1A or 1B.

"We know that people with developmental disabilities and complex medical conditions are catching the virus at a higher rate and they are getting sicker with it and dying at a higher rate. This is a huge opportunity to get ahead of it and keep them safe," he says.

Hart credits LADD with working hard to keep infection rates low among the people it supports. That includes carefully scheduled activities, wearing masks and social distancing. However, the virus still gets through. LADD supports people across the area, some living independently, some living with family, and some living in pairs orcongregate settings.

"Getting this vaccine is really important to cutting out all those factors that we can't really control," Hart says.

Northern Kentucky

The Point Arc of Northern Kentucky is less thrilled with how the vaccine rollout is going in the Bluegrass State. It held a rally last week demanding the Northern Kentucky Health Department prioritize the people it supports.

At issue is which group The Point Arc's participants are classified. The health department issued a statement last week:

"The state has assigned these individuals to Phase 1C, along with other people who have serious medical conditions that put them at increased risk of severe complications of COVID-19," it writes.
"The state has an insufficient supply of vaccine they receive from the federal government to distribute to a limited number of providers. As a result, most providers including pharmacies are not able to administer vaccine to the public at this time."

The Point Arc argues that's not the case. It issued a rebuttal on its Facebook page:

"Our services are recognized in Tier 1a under Long Term Care. This is what we have been trying to tell you for the past 2 weeks! Ask your Office of Inspector General!

"Services are provided in a congregate setting, putting our vulnerable Individuals at a higher risk, along with the serious health conditions that were mentioned in your letter. To support this tier assignment, our staff have been recognized as HEALTH CARE PROVIDERS and have already qualified for and received vaccines in Tier 1a. Why would it make any sense to vaccinate our staff, but not the people we serve?"

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.