Data show that long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put some groups, such as individuals with disabilities, at increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19. This public health crisis highlights the need to ensure greater equity and access to vaccines, boosters and other vaccinations (influenza, chickenpox, etc.) by those disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
The Michigan Developmental Disabilities Institute at Wayne State University recently received a three-year, $7 million grant to address this need in Michigan. MI-DDI’s team will join efforts with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Immunizations Division, on the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases COVID-19 Vaccination Supplement 4, supported through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021, P.L. 116-260 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, P.L. 117-2.
The goal of the project is to increase the number of vaccinated people with disabilities, along with their family members and caregivers; people who are homebound or isolated; people with transportation limitations; and people living in communities with high social vulnerability index.
The statewide project involves Wayne Health Mobile Units, Integrated Biosciences Center, the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health Sciences, the Office for Community Engaged Research and the Institute of Gerontology. Other partners include the Michigan State University Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, the Michigan Developmental Disabilities Council, Disability Rights Michigan and The Arc Michigan.
Sharon Milberger, MI-DDI director and the project’s lead investigator, believes this work will have a significant positive impact on the health outcomes of those most adversely affected by the pandemic.
“Conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, play and worship affect a wide range of health risks and outcomes, such as COVID-19 disease, severe illness and death,” she said. “This funding is an important step in ensuring greater equity [and] access to — and availability of — vaccines for those disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The team aims to improve understanding of disproportionately affected populations and the barriers to vaccination access they face. This will be done by cultivating and strengthening community-based partnerships, expanding and diversifying opportunities for getting vaccinated, and improving and disseminating messages and education around vaccination. In the end, this work will ultimately lead to improved access to COVID-19 vaccines for those experiencing the greatest need.
“We are grateful for this opportunity to meet people in their communities so that all individuals have the opportunity to attain their full health potential,” Milberger said.
The MI-DDI is Michigan’s University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities and home of Michigan’s Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities. The institute’s mission is to contribute to the development of inclusive communities and quality of life for people with disabilities and their families through a culturally sensitive, statewide program of interdisciplinary education, community support and services, and research and dissemination of information.