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Folks with chronic illnesses struggle to get questions about COVID-19 vaccine answered

Published: Jan. 29, 2021 at 3:56 PM EST
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Va. (WDBJ) - There are many questions about the COVID-19 vaccine distribution. And many folks with chronic illnesses, people who are part of Phase 1b, are wondering when they will get vaccine.

Living through the pandemic hasn’t been easy for many, and living through the pandemic with a chronic illness has been an even greater challenge---for people like Suzanne O’Connell.

“What we did is to try to get people out and stay active and just all around wellness, so this was no help whatsoever,” O’Connell said.

Around 30 years ago, O’Connell was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis--a disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord often referred to as invisible and unpredictable.

“We already live with the unknown, we live with a disease that is totally unpredictable, and so now you throw COVID in which is totally unpredictable, and so when you’re told there is this great vaccine is coming, and you just can’t get answers,” she said.

O’Connell is the President of the Multiple Sclerosis Alliance of Virginia. She said just like the unpredictability of her disease is the unknown of when she and many others with M.S. can get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“How they can get their vaccine, when they can get it, and a lot of people don’t even know things as simple as, do I need insurance, will I have to pay for it, where am I going to go, and imagine somebody that’s homebound that maybe doesn’t even drive,” O’Connell said.

Chronic illnesses are part of phase 1b, which is the phase Virginia is currently in. However, Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts Director Cynthia Morrow said in a press conference earlier this week that ages 75 and up are currently a priority group within Phase 1b, and there aren’t enough doses yet for those living with chronic illnesses.

“We still have a very limited supply, we’re estimated to get about 3,000 doses a week for the next few weeks; we will not be able to meet the demand that everyone has for this vaccine, but we will do our best,” Morrow said.

O’Connell says she’s fine waiting in line, but she wishes there was more clarity into how the line works.

“I don’t think any of us are trying to say we’re trying to get to the front of the line, but we would all like to know the process,” O’Connell said.

WDBJ7 spoke over the phone with the Communications Officer for the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts, Christie Wills.

She said people with chronic illnesses in Phase 1b will be notified when they can register for the vaccine. In the meantime, she said they don’t have answers they can give yet to questions relating to issues like mobility, but they are working on it.

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