In a briefing by President Biden on Monday about the nation’s vaccination efforts, he announced a new initiative to support vaccine access for people with disabilities and older adults. The initiative will provide ACL with almost $100 million in new funding from the CDC to provide grants to ACL’s aging and disability networks to address barriers to vaccinations.
This past Saturday, I saw firsthand how ACL’s networks are assisting with vaccine access. I was one of many volunteers who signed on to help the ENDependence Center of Northern Virginia provide vaccinations to people with disabilities and caregivers. Held in collaboration with several partners, the ENDependence clinics have successfully vaccinated over 1,000 people with disabilities, caregivers, family members and housemates. This is just one example of the many ways that ACL’s aging and disability networks are assisting – from providing specialized vaccine clinics like this one, to providing transportation and in-person assistance at vaccination sites, to providing outreach to identify people who may need the vaccine to come to them and address vaccine hesitancy.
Over the past year, it has been a long and frightening journey for people with disabilities and older adults. We have watched with horror as hospitalizations and deaths mounted, seeing people with disabilities and older adults – particularly those in congregate settings or who are multiply marginalized – suffer disproportionately. We all worked hard to advocate that policy makers prioritize older adults, people with disabilities, caregivers and underserved populations. We knew that issues of equity, including racial equity, needed to be at the forefront of conversations.
It has not been easy, but we have had recent successes and are, perhaps, rounding the corner. The CDC funds ACL received on Monday will soon be distributed to State Units on Aging and Area Agencies on Aging ($50 million), Aging and Disability Resource Centers ($26 million), Centers for Independent Living that receive federal funding directly from ACL ($5 million), University Centers of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities ($4 million), Protection and Advocacy systems ($4 million) and State Councils on Developmental Disabilities ($4 million).
In addition to the $93 million described above, another $5 million will be provided to fund a hotline that will connect older adults and people with disabilities seeking a vaccine with local disability and aging agencies. Via the hotline, people will be able to receive assistance with vaccine registration and get connected with services and supports to help them obtain a vaccination. We expect this part of the effort to be fully operational in about two weeks. To learn more about the ACL-CDC partnership, click here.
We’re not out of the woods yet, but the good news is starting to outweigh the bad. What I saw on Saturday when I volunteered with ENDependence certainly left me with an optimistic feeling. Even when I look back to the pandemic’s darkest hours, I know that the dedication exemplified by the disability and aging community, including our networks, kept hope alive. Now, in the midst of the vaccination phase of the response, perhaps we can begin to celebrate our successes.
As you watch our nation’s more than 20,000 community-based organizations spring into action to ensure that everyone has equal access to vaccinations, I hope you will help spread the word. Many people have been frustrated as they tried to get vaccinations, but we hope the new funding will make a big difference in addressing barriers and making access easier. Please encourage older adults, people with disabilities, and paid and unpaid caregivers to reach out to their local disability and aging networks for assistance. Together, we can help ensure equitable vaccine access for all of the people we support.
To learn more about the work ACL and the disability and aging networks are doing to combat the pandemic, visit ACL's COVID-19 website.