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Parents of kids with disabilities want their kids to be higher on the vaccine priority list

Last Updated Mar 4, 2021 at 6:25 pm CDT

WINNIPEG – A human rights complaint has been launched against the Manitoba government by the parent of a child with Down syndrome, who alleges the COVID-19 vaccine priority and rollout plan discriminates against his son and others living with developmental disabilities.

Bruce Strang lives with his 16-year-old son Sean who has Down syndrome and an immunodeficiency disorder.

Strang has attempted to highlight the underlying health conditions and bad health outcomes associated with people who have Down syndrome and contract COVID-19 to health officials.

But Strang says no one from the government will respond, leaving him with other option but to file a human rights complaint.

“I believe our government is failing in its duty, I believe government officials and medical officials are actively discriminating against people with disabilities in Manitoba in the way they formulated the vaccine rollout and I think that’s deplorable conduct,” Strang told CityNews.

He says the idea that someone in their 20s or 30s who is completely healthy would get the vaccine before his son deplorable, pointing to a recent study out of the U.K. which shows people with Down syndrome are four times as likely to be hospitalized and 10 times as likely to die if they get COVID-19.

“But the provincial plan says 21 and healthy is more important than 16 with Down syndrome and a severe immune deficiency. And that’s just wrong,” he said.

On Wednesday, Dr. Joss Reimer, Manitoba’s lead on the COVID-19 vaccine taskforce told reporters that the government did look at all health conditions including people with disabilities to determine where to start the vaccine rollout

“And it was very clear that the age-based approach first off encompassed a lot of people the majority of people who experience disabilities but also was the most efficient way possible to reach the highest-risk people as quickly as possible,” she said.

Susan Cearns lives with her daughter Ruth who is 34 and has Down syndrome. Cearns is watching to see what happens with Strang’s human rights complaint and agrees the vaccine rollout isn’t considering people with disabilities.

“I would like her to get the vaccine as soon as possible,” she said.

Cearns would also like to see vaccine eligibility for those caring for people with disabilities as well.

“We’ve been supported by an army of parents across the country and our growth is really starting to pick up now,” said Mike Waddingham, whose child also has Down syndrome.

Waddingham’s son, who is 17 years old, has been at home for most of the pandemic due to health concerns over COVID-19.

Waddingham and his wife Sue have launched Ready for My Shot, a Canada-wide initiative to promote better policy for COVID-19 vaccine prioritization.

“These are human rights issues. These are rights of equity for people of disabilities and, you know, when you are the parent of a child with a disability, you are immersed in the world of discrimination. You’re immersed in the world of government policy that sees your kid as less-than, and you get used to it.

“But in this case, we’re just not going to stand for it anymore.”