A Brandon man is filing a human rights complaint about how Manitobans with disabilities are getting overlooked when it comes to the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
Bruce Strang told Global News that he got involved in the issue when his requests to have his teenage son, Sean, prioritized due to his health issues weren’t taken seriously.
Sean lives with Down syndrome and has related medical conditions that put him at high risk of serious consequences should he contract the coronavirus.
“The research evidence shows quite clearly that people who live with Down syndrome are 10 times more likely to die from COVID-19 and they’re four to five times more likely to be hospitalized with the effects of COVID 19,” Strang said.
“There are a lot of reasons for that — some of them have to do with genetics, some of them have to do with the way that the body chemistry works in people with Down syndrome as they fight off infection, and some of it is that people with Down syndrome are really prone to secondary infection.
“So people with Down syndrome are at acutely heightened risk from COVID-19, and our provincial government’s vaccine rollout plan ignores entirely issues of disability.”
Strang said his efforts — and those of other parents of people with disabilities — have been all but ignored by the province, which has stuck by its current age-based criteria for vaccination priorities, in an effort to take care of the general population faster.
“Whatever I may think might not matter, but we have a human rights code in Manitoba, and the human rights code places a positive obligation on this government to take into account disability and make sure people who have disabilities are treated with substantive equity,” he said.
“Unfortunately, with the government refusing to take action or to respond to a legitimate inquiry, … I have no choice but to file the human rights complaint, not only on behalf of my son Sean — who’s a great kid and deserves better from this government — but on behalf of any Manitoban who lives with Down syndrome who should have their specific health needs met by this government.”
Strang said he’s aware going the human rights route could be a lengthy process — potentially stretching out years — but he remains hopeful it will encourage discussion on the issue with government officials.
Other Canadian parents have addressed this issue in their own provinces.
A Montreal woman, Sarah Lusthaus, has asked public health officials both federally and in her province of Quebec to place adults with Down syndrome on a priority vaccination list.
Lusthaus, the mother of an adult over 40 with Down Syndrome, launched an online change.org petition in an effort to gather support.
The petition, which was just shy of its 15,000-signature goal as of Tuesday afternoon, calls on the Parliament of Canada and the Quebec National Assembly to recognize the urgency of the situation and make the appropriate changes.
Lusthaus told the Canadian Press people with Down syndrome face a greater risk of being hospitalized and developing complications from the infection, as their genetic condition causes them to age prematurely — and that a number of other countries have already prioritized people with the condition.