vaccine distribution

Virginia Parents of Child With Special Needs Plead for Vaccine Priority

"There's essentially no way to protect him, even though he would fall into a population that would be eligible for getting the vaccine early if [he] were an adult"

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Northern Virginia parents of a child with special needs are asking the governor and other leaders for help getting priority to receive COVID-19 vaccines. 

Shana and Michael Glenzer of McLean, Virginia, haven’t been able to receive the vaccine yet. Their 4-year-old son Gabriel has spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy. He loves to laugh and smile, but he can’t walk or talk, and he uses a feeding tube to eat. The pandemic has added to the challenges the Glenzers face. 

“We've taken on the responsibility of caring for Gabe and all of his medical needs and a lot of therapy that we're doing at home, and yet we're not qualifying as a home health care giver,” Shana Glenzer said. 

Children with disabilities are more vulnerable to COVID-19, especially if they have compromised immune systems. But because of their age, they’re not eligible to receive the vaccines. Even before the pandemic, a common respiratory virus landed Gabriel in the hospital for three weeks.

“He got hit with RSV, which is a respiratory virus that a lot of young kids get, but his was pretty severe because he already had these pre-existing conditions,” Shana Glenzer said. “He had to be intubated. He could not breathe.”

“And so the idea that there's a virus out there that's deadly and much more communicable —  it's terrifying,” Michael Glenzer added. 

The potential of COVID-19 reaching Gabriel has forced the Glenzers to greatly limit the number of people with whom they're in contact. Gabriel’s identical twin brother, Calvin, attends preschool remotely, and his 2-year-old brother, Ford, stays home too.

The kids' parents work from home, balancing their children’s needs with their jobs since the pandemic began last March.

“I'm sort of a nervous wreck all the time because even a trip to the grocery store — what if I catch something?” Michael Glenzer said.

The vaccine won't be available to the general public until late spring or summer, and it could be as late as 2022 before children can receive it.

Sen. Tim Kaine and Sen. Mark Warner each reached out to the Glenzer family, but with vaccines in short supply in the state, there are currently no plans to change who’s eligible in Phase 1b.

Michael Glenzer said he just wanted help for his son.

“I don't know when a vaccine is going to be ready,” he said. “And because of that, there's essentially no way to protect him, even though he would fall into a population that would be eligible for getting the vaccine early if [he] were an adult.”

Sen. Mark Warner said in a statement: “The Glenzer family, and millions of families across the country, are anxiously awaiting their turn to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. With COVID-19 cases skyrocketing across the country, the Biden administration has already unveiled a national strategy to tackle COVID-19, which includes aggressively ramping up efforts to manufacture and distribute more vaccines to Americans.”

A spokesperson for Sen. Tim Kaine said in a statement: “Our office is in communication with the Glenzer family, and we recognize their special circumstances. Senator Kaine has made it a top priority to work with the Biden Administration to strengthen and speed up vaccination efforts in the commonwealth so more families can quickly get vaccinated. Kaine will continue to engage with Virginians on this issue, and work hard to ensure the vaccine is affordable, accessible, and distributed in the fairest way. We encourage people to use the resources on VDH’s Vaccine Response webpage to learn more.” 

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