BURNABY, B.C. -- The head of a Burnaby-based organization is calling on the province to prioritize people with Down syndrome for the COVID-19 vaccine.
Wayne Leslie is CEO of the Down Syndrome Resource Foundation. He has written an open letter to provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix asking for more consideration regarding people with the disability, particularly those over 40.
“Someone (with Down syndrome) in their 40s has more age- and health-related problems and challenges that normally, in the typical population, show up in individuals over the age of 70,” Leslie told CTV News. “They have not been identified as an increased-risk group at all.”
The letter references a U.K. study looking into the impacts of COVID-19 on people with Down syndrome. It estimates those with the disability are four times more likely to be hospitalized by the virus, and 10 times more likely to die.
The foundation estimates the population with Down syndrome in B.C. to be somewhere between 3,500 and 4,000 people.
In response, the Ministry of Health sent a statement to CTV News on Monday. It didn’t address the letter specifically but said the ImmunizeBC Operations Centre will ensure vaccines are available to everyone who is recommended to get them, adding “the primary goal is to make sure B.C.’s public health system is ready to administer vaccines as they become available.”
“Everybody is important in B.C. and everyone who the vaccine is recommended for will have access to it. But we know that some people are at higher risk, and that is why they are getting immunized first,” the statement said.
Premier John Horgan was asked about vaccine priority when he spoke with the media on Thursday. He said his office has been contacted by numerous organizations.
“I want the public to know that we're going to make sure we do our best to prioritize those who are at the greatest risk, and our understanding at this point in time is the older you are, the more at risk you are. So that's how we're going to prioritize going forward,” Horgan said on Jan. 14.
A vaccine would be welcome news for Aaron Waddingham. The 17-year-old from Burnaby is in his final year of high school and is aspiring to be an actor. He dreams of one day being in a movie with Dwayne Johnson, but his Down syndrome has mostly kept him at home since March. His father Mike says that’s when they took him out of school.
“Our risk of catching COVID may be the same as the rest of the population, but the impacts of catching COVID are much higher for Aaron,” he said.
Aaron says life at home can be pretty lonely.
“I miss all my friends at school, I miss more entertainment, sports, activities,” he said. In particular, he enjoys watching the Whitecaps play, calling the experience “mind-blowing.”
Given the small number of people who have Down syndrome in B.C., the Waddingham family believes giving vaccine priority is an “easy decision” for health officials.