Risk of death rather than mortality rates should be the criteria that secures priority vaccination argues the QuadPara Association of South Africa (QASA). The organisation has made a plea to the Department of Health to include quadriplegics and paraplegics in the second round of the vaccine roll out. The organisations hopes this will prevent deaths among its members and ensure no one is left behind.
“Many quadriplegics and paraplegics are at a higher risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus,” explains Raven Benny, QASA COO. “By pushing their wheelchairs, catheterising or accepting assistance from their carer, they are placed in high-risk situations.
“For most, social distancing from their caregiver, family or friends are impossible as they need assistance with daily, essential activities. A vaccination might not prevent them from contracting the Coronavirus, but it can prevent a visit to the hospital.”
Many quadriplegics and paraplegics are at an increased risk of falling severely ill and hospitalisation when contracting COVID-19. Due to lifestyle factors, like a sedentary routine, many in the community have co-morbidities like diabetes or high blood pressure. In addition, pressure sores (an open wound) and urinary tract infections are common and put strain on an already compromised immune system.
Aside from the impact on limbs, a spinal cord injury plays havoc on the immune systems and nervous systems of quadriplegics and paraplegics. The immune system is slowed, which gives the virus more opportunity to spread.
“We want to keep our members out of hospital as we are very much aware that, unfortunately, they are not always considered a priority,” Benny continues. “In times of disaster, doctors will do what is best for the most, which might mean denying a high-risk patient access to a ventilator to help others.
“We respect the medical practices that prioritise saving as many people as possible. Instead, we are calling on the Department of Health to save lives. They have the resources to make sure our members are never placed in a situation where a doctor needs to decide between saving them and another with a strong immune system. We need to be vaccinated.”
QASA wrote to the Department twice. After the first letter, the Department enquired about the mortality rate among members. Aside from the limited information available regarding deaths, QASA argues that there is sufficient reasons to vaccinate the community.
“Are we going to be denied because there haven’t been enough deaths? How many should die before we are considered vulnerable? We call on the Department of Health to put risk of death as the highest priority rather than existing mortality rates,” says Benny.
“Afterall, are they in the business of saving lives or counting corpses?” he concludes.