Families with disabled loved ones wait anxiously for vaccine

A public health nurse administers the COVID-19 vaccine. (File photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News)

Families with disabled loved ones who do not live in congregate settings hope to find out soon when it will be their turn to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, but so far, those answers have been elusive.

“They keep talking about those in congregate settings,” said Paula Nantais, whose 24-year-old daughter has Down Syndrome. “What about those who live at home with their families or those who live on their own?”

Nantais and others who have contacted BlackburnNews.com have repeatedly tried to get answers from the Ministry of Health and the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit to no avail.

“The health unit has a lot to deal with. I get it,” she said. “But, we’re running out of avenues. We have to keep hammering away at it.”

Before the pandemic, Taylor Nantais had a job at the Sandbar Restaurant in Puce. For two summers, she wiped down tables and helped set up the dining room and bar, but when COVID-19 cases rose, her mother no longer felt safe sending her to work.

“If she was vaccinated, I would let her go back,” said Paula.

Taylor has not left her home since March. During the summer months, she would visit with friends and family in the driveway, making sure to keep six to 12-feet from anyone outside her immediate family. Once the weather turned colder, she had to satisfy her need to socialize through Zoom.

“Our fear is that she will get this virus, end up in the hospital, alone and afraid,” said her aunt Melissa Nada. “She will not fully understand what is happening or be able to communicate with our healthcare professionals. It’s too heartbreaking and heart-wrenching to even think about.”

A recent study published in The Lancet’s Clinical Medicine journal suggests the family’s concerns have merit. An international study involving 1,000 patients with Down Syndrome showed they often suffered more severe symptoms, including lung complications leading to death.

Paula has worked from home since March, fearful she might inadvertently infect her daughter.

“I could be an asymptomatic transmitter,” she said. “I have been so concerned.”

According to provincial guidelines, those with chronic illnesses can expect to receive the vaccine in Phase Two. The family’s doctor has added Taylor to a list of priority patients, but at last check, it had not been requested.

So far, Medical Officer of Health Doctor Wajid Ahmed has been able to offer little more than his sympathy.

“It weighs heavily on me and Theresa every time we are talking about these vaccines,” said Ahmed explaining how with a limited supply of the vaccine the rollout is limited. “Right now, they have to wait.”