Disability Network West Michigan Discusses Vaccination Within the Disability Community

Disability Network West Michigan members Diane Fleser, Brad Hastings, and Jeffery VanDyke share their experiences working with and having disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A program instructor from the Michigan Vaccine Project interviews members of Disability Network West Michigan for a podcast.

The Michigan Vaccine Project (MVP) provides trusted, evidence-based vaccination information so that everyone can make informed healthcare decisions for themselves and their families. One of the ways MVP does this is through its podcast “An Ounce of Prevention” where healthcare professionals and everyday Michiganders gather to tell their vaccination stories.

The podcast recently featured members of the Disability Network West Michigan Diane Fleser, Brad Hastings, and Jeffery VanDyke. The Disability Network West Michigan has been providing independent living resources for people with disabilities in the Muskegon, Oceana, Newaygo, Lake, and Mason counties of Michigan since 1999. During the interview Diane, Brad, and Jeffery shared their experiences with how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted members of the disability community. Highlights from the interview can be found below.

Question for Jeff: Would you be comfortable talking about your disability and how it has impacted your life?

Jeff: I was born with cerebral palsy, and for those who don’t know, cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder. Think of cerebral palsy as your body being like a rubber band, and instead of being able to stretch out in a way that you would want to, my body kind of retracts or has spasms which cause it to retract. It affects my movements- it can affect my vocal cords. It affects pain throughout my body. Overall, palsy has been a curse in some ways, but it has also been a blessing. I’m thankful that being born with this condition has put me in a position where I can use my life and experiences in a way to hopefully positively influence the next generation to manage their own conditions. Whether you have a condition like me or not, I hope people with disabilities are able to look at me and see what you can do with what you have as opposed to what people say you can’t.

Question for Diane: Can you share some of the statistics on the incidence of disability in the population?

Diane: Right now, about one in four people is a person with a disability. There are disabilities that can be very apparent, but there are also a lot of what we can describe as non-apparent disabilities, and those are like chronic illness, mental health disorders, and others. All of those fall within the realm of disability and individuals identifying as having a disability.

Question for the group: What was going on in your world when the world stopped in March of 2020?

Diane: It was difficult. We have a lot of individuals on our team that were incredibly susceptible to the disease and death from the disease. Very early on we saw people with disabilities dying and not having access to lifesaving machines because they were a person with a disability. A lot of the battles that the disability community thought they had fought already were just suddenly resurfacing, and we’re seeing this discriminatory care kind of unravel right before us.

Jeff: The loss that we experienced throughout the pandemic and even ongoing now because even though the pandemic is considered over, it’s not over. There are so many people that are still feeling the loss or they still have people in the hospital now. I think it’s disrespectful to call the pandemic over. I don’t like when people use statistics to define loss- because even if there is a 1% death rate or 2% death rate, that doesn’t define the person. Whether it’s one person lost or whatever the number is, that person is still missing from their family. What people had mentioned throughout the pandemic is what people with disabilities feel all the time. That isolation, that lack of social connectivity. So a lot of these things that people mentioned over that period is what we experience on a daily basis. It was really hard to see people on lawns protesting the lack of haircuts and lack of other things that we deal with on a daily basis. People without disabilities were complaining because they couldn’t go into stores. Imagine how we feel when we go to a place that says open to the public, but there’s a staircase?

Brad: There are still new cases of COVID every day in the state of Michigan, people dying every day in the state of Michigan, even though it may feel like it’s past us.

Diane: The pandemic is certainly not over for so many people, especially our vulnerable and marginalized populations.

Question for the group: Can you share your initial thoughts on when the vaccine was released?

Brad: I think a lot of us probably had this reaction when the first vaccines became available, and thought “wow that was fast,” but one of the things I had to tell myself was every scientist in the world is working on this right now because this isn’t just going on in the U.S. Governments all over the world are pouring billions of dollars into this research, and the processes they were using to develop the vaccines were things they had been working on over the past several years. The people who were studying this know a lot more about vaccines and viruses than I do, so I thought “alright, I’m going to trust the experts here” and just get vaccinated because it felt like it was the right thing to do.

Jeff: It seemed like it came out really fast, so I was really grateful for the people that invested their time and energy into creating it, but I was also apprehensive to take it initially because I didn’t know if it was going to be safe for me. It’s always important that we take care of our health in general, but especially if you’re a person with a disability of any kind or have immune concerns that you really especially pay attention to your health, and you try to take as much precaution as you can because at the end of the day, we only have one life, so it’s best to try and extend it as well as we can.

The full, two-part podcast series can be found at https://www.canr.msu.edu/vaccineeducation/.

If you would like to learn more about vaccines, check out Michigan State University Extension’s partnership with the Michigan Vaccine Project to find links to event schedules, podcasts, publications, webinars, and videos relating to vaccine education at https://www.canr.msu.edu/vaccineeducation/.

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