Study Shows That Individuals With Intellectual Disabilities More Likely to Die From COVID-19
A new study by researchers from Jefferson Health- Pennsylvania has shown that intellectual disability puts individuals at higher risk of dying from COVID-19 compared to the general population.(Wonder if this would affect the majority in countries like the United States, United Kingdom and Thailand!)
The study involving 64,858,460 patients across 547 health care organizations in the United States reveals that having an intellectual disability was the strongest independent risk factor for presenting with a COVID-19 diagnosis and the strongest independent risk factor other than age for COVID-19 mortality. Screening for COVID-19
, care coordination, and vaccination efforts should be intense within this population that is less able to consistently use masks and socially distance.
The study findings were published in the peer reviewed journal: NEJM) Catalyst.
The study team examined how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected this group, which makes up 1-3% of the US population. (In reality could be much much more!).
Interestingly the study findings found that intellectual disability was second only to older age as a risk factor for dying from COVID-19.
Dr Jonathan Gleason, MD, lead author, the James D. and Mary Jo Danella Chief Quality Officer for Jefferson Health told Thailand Medical News, “The chances of dying from COVID-19 are higher for those with intellectual disability than they are for people with congestive heart failure, kidney disease or lung disease. That is a profound realization that we have not, as a healthcare community, fully appreciated until now."
The study team examined 64 million patient records from 547 healthcare organizations between January 2019 to November 2020 to understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on patients with intellectual disabilities.
The team identified variables such as COVID-19, intellectual disability or other health conditions, as well as demographic factors such as age.
The study findings showed that those with intellectual disabilities were 2.5 times more likely to contract COVID-19, were about 2.7 times more likely to be admitted to the hospital and 5.9 times more likely to die from the infection than the general population.
Co-author Dr Wendy Ross, MD, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician and director for the Center for Autism and Neurodiversity at Jefferson Health said, "Our failure to protect these deeply vulnerable individuals is heart-breaking. I believe that if we can design a system that is safe and accessible for people with intellectual disabilities, it will benefit all of us."
The study team report that patients with intellectual disabilities may have less ability to comply with strategies that reduce the risk of infection, such as masking and social distancing. In addition, the researchers showed that these patients are more likely to have additional health conditions that contribute to a more severe course of COVID-19 disease. The results of the study highlight how these issues become compounded in this population.
Dr Gleason further added, "W
e need to understand more about what is happening with these patients. I do believe these patients and their caregivers should be prioritized for vaccination and healthcare services. We should reflect on why we have failed this vulnerable population, and how we can better serve them during this health crisis, and into the future. Even prior to the pandemic, individuals with intellectual disabilities have had poor health outcomes. We need to do much better."
The study team suggests key action steps that require a rapid response.
Dr Gleason stressed, "First, those with intellectual disabilities and their caregivers should be prioritized for vaccines by organizations that set federal guidelines, including the U.S. CDC. Second, federal and state healthcare regulatory offices should measure access, quality and safety in this population in order to track our ability to improve health outcomes for these patients. Finally, the United States should redesign the care model for individuals with intellectual disabilities."
Dr Alicia Bazzano, MD, PhD, MPH, Chief Health Officer of the Special Olympics further added, "As an organization deeply committed to advocating for the health of one of the most marginalized populations ie those with intellectual disabilities (ID), we have seen the need for people with ID to be prioritized as a high-risk group during this pandemic. It's devastating to hear that people with ID are almost six times more likely to die from COVID-19. Most health authorities do not recognize that people with ID who get COVID-19 have a much higher risk of dying. Special Olympics is grateful to the Jefferson team for shining a spotlight on these devastating numbers."
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