LANSING, Mich. — Mariah Harris, 27, has advanced stage multiple sclerosis. One of her close friends who is also her caretaker, Kati Bursley, is fighting to get Mariah the COVID-19 vaccine but has been unsuccessful.
The reason? Younger people with disabilities don't have special priority in Michigan. Data shows they probably should.
“I take care of Mariah 24/7 because I am physically able to do so and I have the mental capacity to do so,” said Bursley, who lives in Grand Ledge.
Mariah’s condition has caused her many physical challenges and those challenges got worse when she spent six weeks in the hospital during the pandemic due to complications relating to her conditions.
“It was awful,” Bursley said. “They didn’t have anything in place for people in her situation. She’s non-verbal and legally blind. Now one was even able to be there with her.”
Since the pandemic started, Bursley has been on a mission to get Mariah vaccinated but has been turned away multiple times.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services recently announced a statewide expansion for vaccine distribution, but it only applies to people over the age of 50 with medical conditions or a disability. People caring for others may also be vaccinated.
“Since the vaccine roll out in Michigan started, we have really pushed that all people with disabilities be higher up on the vaccine priority list,” said Michelle Roberts, executive director at Disabilities Rights Michigan.
Roberts said whether it’s a person over 50 with a disability or someone younger, like Mariah, the vaccine should be available to those people because they’re most at risk of experiencing severe illness from COVID.
“It really can be a matter of life or death for people,” she said.
The United States hasn't consistently tracked the impact of COVID on people with disabilities, however, data coming from the Office for National Statistics in the U.K. show that 6 out of 10 people who died from the virus there were disabled.
That's why Kati said she’s so passionate when it comes to getting disabled people the vaccine.
“I’m fighting for her, but I am also fighting for people just like her in the same situation,” Bursley said.
A spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said they are trying to make the vaccine available to more people under the age of 50 with disabilities, but there is no decision on that as of yet.