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Being the Subject of Life and Death Decisions

I want to begin by saying this isn’t just another blog topic on COVID-19. Over the last 13-18 months it’s fair to say there’s definitely subject fatigue around coronavirus. But today’s blog

focuses on the next phase of this global pandemic – the rollout of mass inoculation – and the impact it’s having on the community. Throughout our COVID days and its various instances of lockdown, Governments, businesses and generally people everywhere have been holding onto the hope of a vaccination to cure us all. Something that will help us return to “normal” – to fly internationally without repercussions, to go back to hugging our loved ones, to never have the threat of being ordered to stay at home. Thanks to some very clever and hardworking folk, we now have those vaccinations. Australians have been receiving one of two vaccinations (and I won’t get into the politics of which is better here – I’ll leave that to the experts...) over the last couple months. The vaccinations are in high demand globally, and relatively short supply here in Australia. So, quite rightly, the Federal Government has imposed a staged roll-out to ensure priority is given to those who need it most urgently. It’s a no-brainer that frontline workers and those with pre-existing medical conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to the disease are first in line. Whether it be COVID or the ordinary flu – those who are immuno-compromised can’t afford to get sick. Which is why a recent report out of the UK caught my attention

Released by the Office of National Statistics, the report covers the estimated rate of COVID-19 related deaths by disability status. Importantly, it estimates the differences in COVID-19 mortality risk by self reported disability status and diagnosed learning disability status for deaths occurring up to 20 November 2020. I won’t cover the entire report in this blog, but the main takeaway is this: the risk of death involving the coronavirus (COVID-19) was 3.1 (men) and 3.5 (women) times greater for more-disabled people and 1.9 (men) and 2.0 (women) times greater for less-disabled men, compared with non-disabled people.

But why is that? The report delves deeper into the why and, again, I won’t cover it all. But essentially the hypothesis is that those with a disability are more immuno-compromised and, therefore, have higher instances of pre-existing medical conditions that make them a greater threat. Unfortunately, this isn’t the whole truth. It’s really easy to dismiss those with a disability are more likely to die from COVID-19 related symptoms because they’re immuno-compromised. However, if you look more closely at the statistics they paint a bigger picture. For example, doctors were asked their opinions on quality of life and an astounding amount said people living with a disability had a poorer quality of life. Now apart from that being an untrue bias, it shouldn’t ring alarm bells –more just general annoyance. But unfortunately it’s these people who are literally making life and death decisions. Healthcare workers around the world are having to make incredibly difficult decisions between COVID-19 patients due to the sheer number of them putting pressure on resources. It’s been reported from countries such as the UK, US and Brazil, doctors having to make a choice between two people who should be put on a ventilator and who doesn’t; a lifesaving machine. When a doctor is faced with the decision between putting an abled-bodied patient on a ventilator versus someone who lives with a disability, who do you think they choose? This is why I continue to encourage people to check their bias. Don’t assume someone’s quality of life by their abilities. Their quality of life is dictated by their quality of care and economic circumstances. Not by the fact their legs work or not.

In terms of severity ratings, I’m quite disabled. But I’d argue that I do not have a poorer quality of life because of it. But who is going to tell that to the doctor when I’m lying on a bed unconscious? Check your bias. In some instances it could literally be a life or death moment. Also, wash your hands and stay home if you’re sick. It’s the least we can do to help our frontline workers.


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