Disability advocates have demanded a public apology from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky after she called it “encouraging news” that the majority of COVID-19 deaths among those vaccinated are in people with pre-existing conditions – or “who were unhealthy to begin with,” as she put it.
On Friday the leaders of several disability advocacy groups held a telephone conversation with Valensky in which the director of the CDC apologized for her “offensive” remarks last week on Good Morning America. The lawyers, in turn, demanded public apology from Valensky to the disabled community.
In an interview with GMA last week, Walensky described a study of people who were vaccinated, saying: “The vast majority of deaths, over 75%, occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities. So actually these are people who were unhealthy from the very beginning. And yes, really encouraging news in the context of omicrons…we are very encouraged by these results.”
Disabled people protested using the hashtag on Twitter #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy, started by activist Imani Barbarin to denounce the remarks for “advancing the narrative Vulnerable people’s lives become disposable” and implying that their “life is not worth defending“.
After the Friday call Valensky tweeted she thanks disability advocates for the meeting, saying she “look[s] look forward to our continued commitment to address the inequalities and injustice exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
CDC read out During the call, it was noted that Walensky “apologised for the offensive but unintentional statement regarding COVID-19 deaths and comorbidities” and required the CDC to “engage regularly” with the disability community.
After meeting with Walensky, disability advocates said during a press conference that the most important issue to move forward would be that Walensky follow up on her apology and make policy changes.
V letter Released on Thursday, more than 140 disability advocacy groups noted that people with disabilities and pre-existing medical conditions have been disproportionately killed by COVID-19 and that “each of these deaths is a devastating loss to families, friends and our wider communities.”
“Laying off and devaluing people with disabilities has been our daily experience throughout this pandemic,” the letter says.
Groups requirements include regular ongoing meetings between CDC leadership and disability groups, and a call for the CDC to focus on people with disabilities and other communities disproportionately affected by the virus in all of its COVID-19 guidance to the public.
Coronavirus killed over 840,000 people in the US over the past two years, and people with disabilities have experienced severe illness, hospitalization and death disproportionately. With the spread of the micron variant in recent weeks, the number of cases has skyrocketed across the country.
Wendy Lu contributed reporting.