MONTGOMERY, Ohio — Monica Schneider worries constantly about her 9-year-old son getting COVID-19.
Her son, Harrison Abes, has Down syndrome and needs in-person learning and physical therapy in order to thrive.
But Harrison is too young to get the vaccine, and in Ohio, care providers are not yet eligible to receive it.
Schneider worried all summer about how Harrison would safely get back to school. Plexiglass protects him while he’s in class, and his teachers will soon be vaccinated — but Harrison’s other care providers, like his babysitter and therapists, are not a priority under the state’s vaccination plan.
Schneider said her son, like many younger kids, has a lot of sensory needs.
“He will literally lick things, and so he gets sick a lot,” she said. “And so it would not be unusual for him to get something like this, and no one can tell me what that is going to mean for him if he does get it."
The virus' effect on people with Down syndrome is still unclear. It’s not yet known if people with Down syndrome are more likely to get COVID-19, according to the National Down Syndrome Society. But many people with Down syndrome have other medical conditions that could put them at a higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies people with disabilities as “people who need to take extra precaution” during the pandemic.
Ohioans with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, spina bifida and other severe conditions are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine on Feb. 15. But they have to be at least 16 years old for Pfizer doses and at least 18 years old for Moderna.
Neither Pfizer nor Moderna’s vaccine has been tested on children yet.
Although Schneider understands no coronavirus vaccine is safe for children yet, they wonder why Ohio differs from Kentucky, California and New York, where caregivers can line up to protect kids like Harrison.
Gov. Mike DeWine’s office released the following statement about caregivers’ eligibility:
"While there is a compelling case for this group and many groups to receive the vaccine as soon as possible, there is not enough vaccine supply right now to vaccinate all groups at this time. Vaccine eligibility to date has reflected Governor DeWine’s goals of saving as many lives as possible and returning K-12 students to in-person instruction."
Experts such as Dr. Carl Fichtenbaum, professor of medicine at UC Health, believe vaccines coming from Johnson and Johnson and AstraZenca can cure supply shortages in two months or less.
In the meantime, Harrison’s family waits anxiously.
"When does this end? July? August? September? Until I can feel comfortable that he's going to be protected,” Schneider said.