Staff Post

Virginia Knowlton Marcus, DRNC Chief Executive Officer

Governor Cooper must prioritize people at high-risk in vaccine rollout

North Carolina’s vaccination campaign against COVID-19 is well underway. Yet thousands of people with disabilities remain unvaccinated and exposed, even though they are at high risk of severe COVID-19 complications or death. With every day that passes, more North Carolinians with high-risk conditions catch the deadly coronavirus. We must act quickly.


People with disabilities, their loved ones and allies are outraged that the group most harmed by COVID-19 has been left so unprotected. NC Governor Roy Cooper must prioritize disabled North Carolinians as other governors have. The current vaccine plan is inequitable. It leaves too many vulnerable North Carolinians behind.

NC’s Current Vaccination Plan

The State’s current plan puts many people with the highest health risks into Group 4. At the same time, young people with no health risks will get vaccinated ahead of them because they work in a Group 3 job.

Governor Cooper must take action now to change this plan. He must prioritize people who are at high risk of severe complications or death from COVID-19. This includes frontline essential workers with high-risk conditions. It also includes people with disabilities who need the assistance of caregivers.

NC prioritized almost all of these people in the initial vaccine distribution plan. But the State later removed them from the higher priority categories due to problems with the initial vaccine rollout. Yet, many of these people are unable to control their exposures to others. Failing to prioritize them puts their lives in danger.

Governor Cooper must act now

Disability Rights NC strongly urges Governor Cooper to make the following changes:

  • People with disabilities who receive services from caregivers in their homes should be retroactively moved to Group 2,
  • Frontline essential workers with high-risk conditions should be prioritized as Group 3b (the Governor has already made teachers Group 3a),
  • Individuals with rare genetic disorders, regardless of profession, should be prioritized as Group 3c,
  • Frontline essential workers who do not have high-risk conditions should be prioritized as Group 3d.

The current vaccine plan uses age to determine eligibility, with some exceptions made for certain jobs or living arrangements. We know that age is a risk factor, and that simple rules may increase efficiency and a sense of fairness. However, a simple age rule is a blunt instrument. It fails to account for biological and social risk factors that impact all age groups. For too many people, it will be deadly. 

Social risk factors complicate health risks

Some preexisting conditions and disabilities significantly increase the risk of severe COVID-19 complications in adults of any age. Additionally, there are many social risk factors that complicate health risks. Most high-risk essential workers are people of color, the hardest hit community in the pandemic. People of color of all ages have died of COVID-19 at higher rates, just like adults age 65 and over. Their jobs, which often earn low wages, keep our society functioning. Many have no choice but to interact with the public. They can’t adequately protect themselves from exposure to the virus. Yet they are significantly more likely to have high-risk health conditions, like Type 2 diabetes. And anyone at high risk of severe complications living in their households also faces higher risk of infection and death.


Similarly, people with disabilities who need assistance from paid or family caregivers cannot avoid contact with others.  They are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine. Meanwhile, staff and family members who provide these services have been eligible for weeks. 


Some people with disabilities need help with daily activities, like showering or eating. Not only are they interacting with caregivers who may live or go outside their household, they are often at risk of severe COVID-19 complications. They cannot choose to avoid their caregivers. They also cannot control their caregivers’ choices about risks or whether to get vaccinated.

The State prioritized people with disabilities who live in congregate settings for vaccination. People with disabilities living in their communities have a similar risk of exposure to their caregivers. They should also be prioritized. Failure to do so is inconsistent with the State’s commitment to provide access to home- and community-based services.

You can help!

Time is running out. North Carolinians with disabilities who are at high risk of severe COVID-19 complications remain unvaccinated and exposed. Ask Governor Cooper to put high-risk North Carolinians first!

Contact Gov. Cooper at his office by phone or email and tell him to prioritize people at high-risk for complications or death from COVID-19 in the vaccination rollout:

Or, share this post on Facebook or Twitter using the share buttons at the bottom of this page and tag Governor Cooper.

Twitter: use hashtag #HighRiskNC
Tag @NC_Governor
Facebook: @NCGovernor