This pandemic has been hard for everyone. Our way of daily living was flipped upside down because of a deadly virus plaguing the entire world. 2020 introduced wearing masks in public, socially distancing and not seeing friends and family. But for some people, like those of us in the chronic illness community, not much changed besides a befitting anxiety of dying due to something other than our regular illnesses. We’ve been wearing masks in public every flu season for years in an attempt to lower our risk of contracting a hospital admission-inducing sickness. We’ve been socially distancing and not seeing friends and family out of necessity because most often our bodies won’t allow us to do “normal” activities like run to the grocery store, attend a family gathering, or have a night out with friends.
That’s not to say 2020 wasn’t a hard year for us. In fact, I’d selfishly argue that chronically ill people struggled more than the average person. A lot of us had urgently needed medical care postponed, trouble accessing daily medical supplies, less room available in the hospital to be treated for non-covid illnesses and a constant fear of contracting covid-19 and dying from it.
And in the midst of watching the people around us adapt to a world we were already all too familiar with, we found that suddenly things we’d been asking for accessibility wise for years now were magical appearing in the matter of a few short weeks. Disabled and chronically ill folks alike have been fighting to work from home or have telehealth visits for years. But we were told that it was “not possible” or “too difficult”. Yet suddenly, once the mass of able bodied people needed these things, they were offered without hesitation. These accommodations were seen as inconveniences to society and made the disabled community out to be a burden when all along these were simple things to implement. Society is just ableist.
Months later when the vaccine was finally about to be released to the general public, the chronic illness community finally took a breath for the first time in 10 months. We’ve been following the rules, staying home, doing our part, and being as safe as humanly possible since the virus began. In mid December, most states put out a timeline for the vaccine rollout and the community was ecstatic to see we were in the first group (second subset) set to be vaccinated. Finally! The government recognized that chronically ill folks were at high risk for exposure and high risk of death. But that excitement was short lived. Without warning, suddenly states began changing their rollout timeline and the group priorities. Older Americans got bumped up to the top of the list and began getting their vaccines in the beginning of the new year and the chronically ill community was pushed back to the second to last group. With no explanation as to why, Americans with the highest risk due to chronic illnesses became an after thought.
But why are the chronically ill expendable to the United States? Most of us are young and contribute to society. While it may not be in a traditional way like working a 9 to 5, our contributions matter…disabled lives matter. We are not disposable. Our government has made it clear that chronically ill folks are not a priority and that if we die, they have no empathy. The disabled community is the only minority group that anyone can become a part of at any time without warning. Yet we are treated like second class citizens because no one cares about disabled people until they become one of us. A lot of covid survivors are in for a shock, as “long haulers” seem to have chronic health issues and are now seen as a part of the chronic illness community. This should serve as a reminder to never take your health for granted.
While everyone deserves to get the covid vaccine, the people who are most at risk of contracting the virus and dying from it should be at the top of the list. The government seems to have neglected chronically ill Americans once again. It comes as no surprise and it’s a battle we combat every day. We are not strangers to fighting for the bare minimum. Ableism is alive and well in 2021 and unfortunately, due to complete negligence of the U.S. government, some of us won’t be around to continue to see the time when we can get the vaccine.
*please note that the terms chronically ill and disabled are used interchangeably here because the author identifies as both. But not all disabled people are chronically ill and not all chronically ill people are disabled.