Thursday, February 18, 2021

APA Calls on Public Health Officials to Ensure Vaccine Access to People With SMI, SUDs

State public health officials should ensure that people with serious mental illness (SMI) and/or substance use disorders (SUDs) are prioritized along with individuals with other high-risk medical conditions in receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, APA urged today in a news release.

People with SMIs and/or SUDs often have comorbid conditions, which can increase the risk of severe complications from COVID-19, stated an APA guidance document titled “The Role of the Psychiatrist in the Equitable Distribution of the COVID-19 Vaccine.” Additionally, these individuals may live in overcrowded conditions, increasing their risk of infection.

“Historically these populations have had limited access to preventative care and vaccinations, foreshadowing inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines,” continued the guidance document. The document was created by APA’s Committee on Psychiatric Dimensions of Disaster, Committee on Integrated Care, Council on Communications, Council on Minority Mental Health and Health Disparities, and Council on Healthcare Systems and Financing.

In the news release, APA urged public health authorities to include people with mental illness in the equivalent of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Phase 1c, which refers to people with high-risk medical conditions, as well as those who are aged 65 to 74 and essential workers.

“It’s all too common that people with serious mental illness and/or substance use disorders don’t have access to health care; are of low socioeconomic status; or, based on history, harbor mistrust toward the medical establishment,” said APA President Jeffrey Geller, M.D., M.P.H., in the news release. “States should treat psychiatric illnesses like other high-risk conditions and prioritize this population’s access to the vaccine.”

According to the guidance document, while the CDC provides guidance on which conditions are considered high risk, every state has its own plan for prioritizing eligible populations and disseminating vaccines. Many patients with mental illness “fall into high priority groups due to medical comorbidity or social risk factors such as homelessness,” the guidance document stated. “Psychiatrists should help patients to identify locations where they can receive vaccines; these may include community mental health centers, inpatient or residential facilities, primary care clinics, public health clinics, or local pharmacies.”

“APA and its member psychiatrists have worked throughout this pandemic, many on the frontlines,” said APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A., in the news release. “We will continue to promote policies that keep our patients safe and particularly in getting vaccines that require two doses over time.”

For related information, see the Psychiatric News articles “Vaccination Conversations: Influencing Critical Health Behaviors in COVID-19” and “Hope and the Hesitancy for the Vaccine: How Can We Help Our Minority Patients?

(Image: iStock/youngvet)

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