The Arc Maryland, an organization that advocates for and supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, has dismissed a lawsuit against Baltimore City and Garrett, Queen Anne’s and Somerset counties after alleging earlier this week that they and two other counties were providing unequal access to COVID-19 vaccines.
The group and its attorneys filed the lawsuit in federal court against those counties, as well as Carroll and Talbot counties, late Monday evening. The complaint alleged that the six jurisdictions violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by not explicitly including people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in their online vaccine priority lists, even though they qualify for immunizations in the current distribution phase per Maryland executive order.
The Arc said the counties took immediate actions to satisfy the complaint, “working expeditiously and in good will.”
“Actions taken ... include correcting information on websites that omitted people with [intellectual and developmental disabilities] from among those listed as eligible for vaccination in Phase 1B; posting a liaison for people with disabilities to contact for assistance; instructing staff as to the eligibility of people with [intellectual and developmental disabilities]; and adding people with [intellectual and developmental disabilities] to interest lists.”
The suit remains against Carroll and Talbot counties.
Ande Kolp, executive director of The Arc Maryland, said in a interview Tuesday that the failure to include accurate priority guidance language on the websites adds another burden to an already cumbersome registration process, which is inherently difficult to navigate for people with disabilities.
“We’re not asking for special clinics, just equitable access along with other people in [Phase] 1B,” Kolp said. “We were concerned that if we continued to wait and hope that things would change, we might not get it changed fast enough to save lives.”
Statewide, Marylanders with intellectual and developmental disabilities were prioritized to receive COVID-19 immunizations in the state’s rollout as of Jan. 18. But with a national vaccine supply shortage and a decentralized, online booking system, many Marylanders — especially older adults, people without computers and those lacking digital skills — have struggled to secure appointments.
There are at least 17,764 Marylanders with disabilities who rely on state services, according to the Maryland Developmental Disability Administration, and many of them could be at higher risk of contracting severe illness due to COVID-19. As many as 1,853, or 9%, have tested positive for the disease caused by the virus, according to the agency’s figures. At least 92 of those patients have died as a result.
The true number of Marylanders with disabilities is likely much higher, as the majority are not provided for by the formal service system. Kolp said it could be as many as 93,000 individuals, many of whom lack access to transportation and technology.
The state has asked at least 18 CVS pharmacies, in partnership with the federal government, to prioritize Marylanders with intellectual and developmental disabilities — along with older adults and educators — for vaccination appointments. The Maryland Department of Health also tasked local health departments with vaccinating at least one assisted living facility and at least one residential setting for Marylanders with disabilities each week to help the community access the immunizations.
Local health department leaders also said they were working on vaccinating the community, even if their websites were misleading. Ed Singer, Carroll County’s health officer, said the department had been inoculating people with disabilities from the start.
“This could’ve easily been resolved with a telephone call,” Singer said Monday.
He did not respond to a request for comment Friday.