GlobalData epidemiologists report that there are over 2.2 million people fully vaccinated against Covid-19 in the US, with nearly 6.1 million total vaccination doses administered. However, this vaccine coverage is not evenly distributed across all populations within the US. One underrepresented population is Americans with disabilities. A recent paper by Turner and colleagues published in JAMA Ophthalmology sought to determine whether the presence of communication disabilities such as deafness or blindness affected Covid-19 vaccination and initiation rates. The study used data obtained from the US Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey (April 2021–March 2022) and determined that vaccine initiation and series completion were negatively associated with visual and hearing disabilities. GlobalData epidemiologists expect that addressing vaccine coverage discrepancies via increased access to disabled populations will increase vaccine coverage overall and ensure optimal protection against Covid-19 in the US.
Turner and colleagues examined vaccine initiation, which was defined as receiving the first dose of the Covid-19 series. In this study, 82.7% of all participants initiated vaccination. Researchers determined the probability of vaccine initiation, accounting for social, clinical, and demographic characteristics. Adjusted probability of vaccine initiation (displayed in Figure 1) between people with little difficulty hearing (86.5%) and serious difficulty (with aid) (85.7%) was not significantly different, but these groups were both significantly more likely to initiate vaccination than deaf people (80.9%). The same trend was present between populations with little difficulty seeing (86.5%), serious difficulty seeing (86.1%), and blindness (80.2%).
Researchers also assessed vaccination rates, defined as completion of a Covid-19 vaccine course (displayed in Figure 1). Study population initiators demonstrated 98% series completion, yielding an 81% vaccination rate. However, vaccination rates differed significantly between sighted (83.0%) and low vision (76.7%) or blind (62.9%) Americans. Similar discrepancies were observed between hearing (82.8%) and hard of hearing (80.7%) or deaf (65.2%) populations.
According to the 2019 American Community Survey (ACS) by Cornell University, approximately 7.5 million Americans have a visual disability, and 11.6 million Americans have a hearing disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act, updated in 2010, establishes requirements for effective communication and website accessibility. Deaf and hard of hearing populations require captioning, writing, TTY, and sign language or tactile interpreters. Covid-19 mask policies have especially impacted deaf persons who use lipreading. Blind and low vision populations require Braille or tactile signage, high colour contrast, large print, alt-text for images, audible narration, and text readers. Communication disabilities can also affect access to healthcare via transportation issues, separation from companions and interpreters, and barriers to medical literacy due to mistranslation or miscommunication with healthcare workers.