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People with Intellectual Disabilities are Almost 6 Times More Likely to Die from COVID-19 than the General Population

Joe Wu Wilsee receives at COVID-19 vaccination.

Intellectual disability puts individuals at higher risk of dying earlier in life than the general population, for a variety of medical and institutional reasons. A new study from Jefferson Health examined how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected this group, which makes up 1-3% of the US population. The study, published today in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) Catalyst, found that intellectual disability was second only to older age as a risk factor for dying from COVID-19.

The results of the study also showed that those with intellectual disabilities were 2.5 times more likely to contract COVID-19, were about 2.7 times more likely to be admitted to the hospital and 5.9 times more likely to die from the infection than the general population.

“As an organization deeply committed to advocating for the health of one of the most marginalized populations—those with intellectual disabilities (ID)—we have seen the need for people with ID to be prioritized as a high-risk group during this pandemic. It’s devastating to hear that people with ID are almost six times more likely to die from COVID-19,” said Alicia Bazzano, MD, PhD, MPH, Chief Health Officer of Special Olympics. “Most health authorities do not recognize that people with ID who get COVID-19 have a much higher risk of dying. Special Olympics is grateful to the Jefferson team for shining a spotlight on these devastating numbers."

Read more about this study.

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The American Academy of Developmental Medicine & Dentistry (AADMD) recently invited Dr. Alicia Bazzano, Special Olympics Chief Health Officer, to keynote a webinar titled COVID-19 and People with ID: Special Olympics Responds.Dr. Bazzano was introduced by Dustin Plunkett, an athlete leader who was referred at a Special Olympics Healthy Athletes screening to a local dentist, who identified him as having treatable gum cancer.Dr. Bazzano went on to discuss the health disparities that are hitting people with intellectual disabilities particularly hard during the COVID-19 global outbreak. She outlined ways in which Special Olympics is filling those gaps and shared steps that health professionals can take right away to help deliver inclusive health services.