Two weeks ago, Jacinta Keegan stood outside the rain for the funeral of her nephew David McCormack in Drogheda, Co Louth. He was 29 years old and had a chronic disability that meant he fought for every second of his life.
e could not speak and spent his life confined to a wheelchair but he was at the heart of his big family, a cherished and beloved brother and son, who loved nothing better than a room full of people and lots of laughter and fun.
But David’s death was not due to his medical condition.
After a year of being shielded by his family from the coronavirus, and while anxiously waiting for the vaccine, David died of Covid-19 on January 30.
“He had been fighting the virus for 17 days,” said Jacinta. His lungs deteriorated and he died in hospital, with his family having to keep to a distance.
Standing outside the church in the rain, the mourners who could not go inside were organised into a line and invited to wave at David’s family from a distance as they came out of the church.
“I had to hug her [David’s mum Caroline], I know I shouldn’t have, but I knew what she was going through, I hope I never have to go to another funeral like it.”
Jacinta knows exactly what her sister is suffering because she has also lost a child.
Sarah, who suffered from the same condition as her cousin, David, died a year ago.
Her surviving daughter, Amy, has the same condition, Duplication 12 P, a chromosomal abnormality that has left her with profound disability. She is at as high a risk of dying of the coronavirus as her cousin was.
In the UK last week, GPs began prioritising all patients with learning disabilities for the vaccine after alarming new evidence showed that 60pc of people in England who died from Covid-19 had a disability.
Corresponding figures in Ireland were not available to the Sunday Independent this weekend. But families of people with disabilities who are at greatest risk of dying of Covid-19 are pleading with the Government to vaccinate their group urgently as a “matter of life or death”.
The vaccination roll-out programme focused initially on nursing home residents and staff and frontline health care workers.
The Health Service Executive only last week moved on to the third cohort, the over-70s, starting with those over the age of 85.
People like David and Amy – who fall into the category of being under the age of 64 with a medical condition and are at a higher risk of being hospitalised with Covid-19 – are seventh on the vaccine priority list.
The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) is currently drawing up a list of medical conditions that should be prioritised for the vaccine.
Geraldine Conway, from Dulleek, Co Meath, says at present their profoundly disabled children are too far down the priority list.
“There has been no update whatsoever on when we might get the vaccine,” she said.
“All of us as parents are living on edge.”
Geraldine’s son, Alex (24), has cerebral palsy and is a wheelchair user.
He also has severe epilepsy and an intellectual disability – and has already had pneumonia in this third wave, which involved a frightening trip to hospital.
She has written to the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, but has yet to receive a substantive reply from him.
Geraldine is now pushing for GPs here to submit a list of vulnerable patients to the Health Service Executive for priority vaccination.
“He would not survive Covid-19, absolutely not. Part of the reason they are so vulnerable is their lungs.
“They are not moving around. They are sitting in a difficult position. They do physio to keep a normal flu or cold at bay. So what chance do they have with Covid-19?”
Jacinta Keegan and her sister Caroline were identified as carriers of the genetic condition after Caroline gave birth to David. It meant there was a risk but no certainty that they would pass the gene to their children.
Amy Keegan can’t walk or communicate, and she is not verbal. But she communicates in all sorts of other ways. She laughs and smiles and makes her feelings known.
“She loves cuddles with her dad. He has her ruined since he finished work because of the pandemic – she loves his cuddles.” says Jacinta.
Her cousin, David, loved parties, said Jacinta. “He loved having company and people around and loved watching people. He loved music.
“He loved his sister playing the recorder.”
Amy is especially precious to Jacinta and her husband, Paul, since David’s death, and having lost their first-born daughter Sarah at 26.
“Covid is such a big worry. They can’t fight it if they get it. Disabled children can’t wear masks if they go out, most can’t tolerate them, so you can’t bring them anywhere.”
For Geraldine and her son Alex, and for Amy’s parents, Jacinta and Paul, the vaccine cannot come too soon.
Jacinta said David and Amy’s grandfather is due to get the Covid-19 vaccine this week, and she knows that if he could, he would swap his place with Amy.
It is sadly too late for David.
The Department of Health said Minister Donnelly has received recommendations from NIAC and will bring a revised COVID-19 Vaccination Allocation Strategy to Cabinet for approval next week.
Source: Irish News