LOS ANGELES — On Friday the California Department of Public Health widened the vaccine eligibility criteria, and beginning March 15, providers may use their clinical judgment to vaccinate people between the ages of 16 and 64 considered very high risk, including those with developmental disabilities.

"I want the disability community to know we’ve heard you and we’re going to do more and better to provide access even with the scarcity," announced Gov. Gavin Newsom.

What You Need To Know

  • The California Department of Public Health widened vaccine eligibility criteria

  • Beginning March 15, providers may use their clinical judgment to vaccinate people between the ages of 16 and 64 considered to be very high risk including those with developmental disabilities

  • Advocates argue this move is backed by science

  • Some people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have already gotten the vaccine, while others continue to wait

Niko De Guzman, 29, has autism and takes the bus to get to his new job, which means his risk of infection is elevated. Plus, he lives with family members who have been sick.

"I’ve been staying home for the past month now and it’s hard. It’s really hard," said Guzman. "I will say this, I’m terrified of getting sick right now, but right now I’m healthy as ever."

There is plenty of research to explain why Guzman is now vaccine eligible. Studies show people within the intellectually and developmentally disabled community are three times more likely to die if they have COVID-19, partly due to the higher chance of having underlying conditions. Another factor is this community often shows earlier signs of aging.

One researcher wrote, “Adults with Down syndrome have a higher prevalence (15% to 40%) of early-onset Alzheimer's disease occurring 15-20 years earlier compared to the general population.”

It is well known the elderly are especially vulnerable to the virus.

Stanford clinical associate professor Dr. Alyssa Burgart pushed to change the state guidelines

“I think just being aware of the history of the devaluing of people with disabilities in our communities is just so important, especially for me as a physician, who takes care of this population to ensure that [I] use my voice in whatever way possible,” said Dr. Burgart.

Wesley Witherspoon, who lives with autism and serves on the State Council on Developmental Disabilities, received the vaccine after experiencing pain caused by the pandemic.

"My poor uncle, I didn’t get the chance to go to his funeral because of fear of getting COVID, so I’m suffering," said Witherspoon. "I have an aunt that is in the south. She got COVID. My cousin down south, they got COVID. One of my mom’s best friends died from COVID. The minority community has been affected immensely."

For now, De Guzman will have to wait a little longer for his first dose.