The COVID-19 vaccine is here, and like most things dealing with the pandemic, the rollout of both the Pfizer-BioNtech and the Moderna vaccines has been a nightmare. The Trump administration’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP) released loose guidelines for states to follow in determining how to disseminate the vaccine but has largely left most of the decisions up to the states. Most people don’t yet know when they’ll receive the vaccine, and on the whole, most states are still in phase 1a, disseminating shots to frontline healthcare workers and those living in long-term care facilities.
In their initial recommendations, people with type 1 diabetes would receive the vaccine further down on the priority list, along with healthy individuals under 65 years old. People with type 2 diabetes are classified as, “at increased risk for severe COVID-19–associated illness”, and are thus to be given priority access in phase 1c, along with people who suffer from other conditions, such as cancer, heart failure, sickle cell disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and smoking. Type 1 diabetes is classified as, “might be at increased risk for severe COVID-19-associated illness”, to be given access in phase 2, with other conditions such as being overweight (BMI >25), and suffering from neurologic conditions.
This would put people with type 1 diabetes in the general population rollout, months after not only people with type 2 diabetes have gotten their shots, but behind many other chronic conditions, too. This is a harsh slap in the face for a community that could face so many negative consequences should they contract the virus (not to mention people with diabetes make up 40% of all COVID-19 deaths).
But recent data has come out that people with type 1 diabetes suffer from mortality from COVID-19 at similar rates as people with type 2 diabetes, and a study conducted by Vanderbilt University said people with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes who have COVID-19 have three to four times higher risk of severe complications and hospitalization as compared to people without diabetes.
Several more studies show that having type 1 diabetes is potentially even more dangerous if you contract COVID-19 than having type 2: A Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology study published last year looked at medical records from the National Health Service in England to conclude that the risk of dying from Covid-19 was almost three times higher for people with type 1 diabetes and almost twice as high for type 2 than for those without diabetes.
In Scotland, another Lancet study said being admitted to an ICU or dying was more than twice as likely for type 1 diabetes patients and nearly 1.5 times more likely for type 2 diabetes patients than for people without diabetes.
People with type 1 diabetes have been told that they live with a disability the entire time they’ve lived with this incurable illness. We’ve sat on the sidelines while going low, been discriminated against in the school and workplace, shut out from certain industries and employers, and know the unique and awful feeling of our skin tightening from a hyperglycemic event after our pump failed for the umpteenth time in our sleep. We require special accommodations, a militant watch on our medication, exercise, insulin, and food intake, and are never offered a break, a day off, or even a hint of affordable insulin.
We live in the unique situation of a dual-reality: having a chronic condition, yet feeling its invisibility every day. We’re never quite “sick enough”; we never “look” diabetic; sometimes, we feel like we don’t even “deserve” the meager accommodations that we get (always pre-board flights, because you’re allowed to!). We live every day with the knowledge that our life expectancy is likely shorter, our days are harder, and especially during this pandemic, many of us have lived in fear of a serious complication should we contract COVID-19 and the bleak consequences we could face. Many of us have stayed home, shut-in, and waited this out, while watching some of our able-bodied peers continue to ignore public health protocols and guidelines.
The end result of the CDC’s recommendations burns and is tangible: states, including Iowa, Illinois, and Virginia, are prioritizing dissemination of the vaccination to people living with type 2 diabetes before people living with type 1 diabetes. Simply put: we’ve been told to stay in, shut up, and wait it out for the vaccine, due to our fragile health condition, and now that the vaccine is here, our disability is yet again being ignored.
Yes, type 2 diabetes is being prioritized and that is right, good, and important, but type 1 diabetes needs to be prioritized, too. They’re not mutually exclusive. Currently, the United Kingdom is not differentiating between type 1 and type 2 diabetes; they are prioritizing people who have either type. Other countries are following suit.
On Tuesday, the Trump administration reversed course, adopting part of president-elect Joe Biden’s distribution plan, advising states to prioritize everyone over the age of 65 and any person with a chronic condition to get the vaccine as soon as possible; states have yet to officially adopt these plans on a wide scale.
Recently, several letters were sent from various diabetes advocacy organizations to the CDC urging them to reconsider their guidelines. Organizations such as T1International, Mutual Aid Diabetes, The American Diabetes Association, JDRF, Beyond Type 1, Children with Diabetes, The diaTribe Foundation, DiabetesSisters, and T1D Exchange have lent their voices to make the needs of the 1.6 million people living with type 1 diabetes in America known.
The bottom line is that we need to curb the tide of this pandemic. Almost 400,000 Americans are dead, with a holiday-related surge in cases, hospitalizations, and death on the way. We need to get shots into as many arms as quickly as possible and stop telling some of our most vulnerable populations that, yet again, they aren’t sick enough to qualify, and that they can wait. We can’t.