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'Should Be Top Priority': Scientist Says Those With Down Syndrome Should Receive Vaccine Soon

DENVER (CBS4) - Many people with disabilities are more vulnerable to COVID-19, but they are seemingly pushed down on the priority list to get the vaccine. This includes people with Down syndrome, despite their increased risk of death if they were to contract the virus.

"People with Down syndrome have many differences in the immune system," Dr. Joaquin Espinosa, Executive Director of the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome, said. "There are parts of the immune system that are hyperactive, supercharged. So, when they fight a virus or they fight a viral infection, they overdo it. That excessive rate of response to the virus can cause a lot of complications."

According to Annals of Internal Medicine, people with Down syndrome are 10 times more likely to die from coronavirus than the typical population.

"We're seeing that adults with Down syndrome are four times more likely to be hospitalized and 10 times more likely to develop adverse side effects," he added.

That is a big reason why Espinosa, as well as many disability groups, want to see people with Down syndrome moved up on the priority list to get the vaccine.

"They should be top priority," Espinosa told CBSN Denver's Kelly Werthmann. "Working adults with Down syndrome in their 40s have the risk of hospitalization and mortality equivalent to typical people in their 80s."

(credit: CBS)

Gov. Jared Polis said Wednesday people living with the genetic disorder in Colorado will be eligible for the vaccine soon.

"Down syndrome, which has a weakened circulatory system, weakened hearts, they are in the next phase. It should be early March," he told CBS4.

Espinosa is working closely with the Global Down Syndrome Foundation to ensure people with the chromosomal disorder are protected from COVID-19. He said the coronavirus is not a death sentence for a person with Down syndrome if they contract the virus.

"People with Down syndrome should take extra caution when it comes to social distances, using a mask and preventing being around people who have been exposed to the virus," he said. "The risk of complications is accelerated."

Adding to why he believes those with Down syndrome should be prioritized for the COVID vaccine, Espinosa said it's about equality.

"We should give people with Down syndrome the same rights as other risk groups," he said. "We should not discriminate."

He also said this is an opportunity to advance important research on not only Down syndrome and the immune system, but how it may apply to the general population.

"Why is it that having this extra chromosome increases the risk of complications? What can we learn from the study of Down syndrome that they can benefit not only people with Down syndrome, but also the typical population?" he said.

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