DHHS to hold vaccine clinics for Nebraskans with intellectual and developmental disabilities

Published: Apr. 1, 2021 at 6:20 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - For more than a year, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities have had to buckle down on COVID-19 precautions, because there was so much fear about what would happen if they caught the virus.

For 21-year-old Elissa Fuelberth, this has meant a year of family nights in the driveway, zoom calls with friends and teaching neighborhood kids in the driveway instead of working as a teacher’s assistant at a local elementary school.

“I loved my job,” Elissa said. “I only see my friends on Facetime. I really miss seeing them in person.”

Because Elissa was born with down syndrome, she’s five times more likely to be hospitalized due to COVID-19 and ten times more likely to die of the virus than someone without down syndrome, according to Edison McDonald, the executive director for The Arc of Lincoln.

Elissa’s dad, Dean, said this has impacted the entire family.

“You know as our groceries arrive in our driveway each week, we wipe everything down,” Dean said. “It’s been something we’ve all taken seriously.”

This means the vaccine is a ticket to freedom.

“The vaccine will help me feel safer,” Elissa said.

After initially removing people who are more vulnerable from priority lists, DHHS is now partnering with community organizations to put on vaccine clinics for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“We have families who feel like they have hope again,” McDonald said. “That they’re not going to be pushed to the very bottom of the list. That they can go and access a vaccine. It’s changed the lives of many families.”

Dean said these clinics, and the support of community partners, like the Lincoln Lancaster County Health Department, which gave Elissa her first dose of the vaccine two weeks ago, are heroes in this tough time.

“It just gives that little bit of hope and freedom,” Dean said.

The first clinic is April 2 in Omaha where 1,000 people will get their first does of the vaccine. Registration for that clinic already closed, but DHHS said they plan to hold others in the future, including one in Lincoln.

Elissa said she couldn’t be more excited to get her second shot next weekend.

“I’m going to get to hug my friends,” she said.

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