As more people receive the COVID-19 vaccine, researchers urge that those with severe mental health disorders take precedence. People in this group are more likely to have complications from COVID-19, but are generally less likely to receive a vaccine. Flu vaccination rates among people with severe mental health disorders are only about 25%.
A December 2020 article in JAMA Psychiatry analyzes the barriers this group faces in getting vaccines—and suggests ways to increase their access. People with severe mental health disorders are less likely to receive preventative healthcare. This means that they may have misconceptions about vaccines. Those views could be exacerbated by paranoia—in the case of mental health disorders like Schizophrenia—or anxiety.
How Can We Get Vaccines to People With Severe Mental Health Disorders?
JAMA recommends training mental health professionals to provide education about the vaccine, and in some cases to administer it. A study published in The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine found that education from a healthcare professional caused a 4-fold increase in vaccinations.
As the JAMA authors put it, “Mental health professionals are uniquely skilled to deliver this education, being able to adapt for those with communication difficulties and balance factors influencing decision-making. There may be a delicate balance between factors that facilitate immunization, such as perceived fear of infection, and those that reduce uptake, such as concurrent general anxiety.”
People with severe mental health disorders may also lack transportation, financial resources, and other practical means to receive a vaccine. JAMA suggests adding vaccination clinics to existing mental health services, which can increase rates by 25%, and providing the vaccine at no cost.
Why Are People With Serious Mental Health Disorders at Greater Risk for Complications from COVID-19?
Those with severe mental health disorders may have poorer health, live in crowded living conditions, have chronic illness, or take medications that increase their risk of complications from COVID-19.
A quarter to a third of people experiencing homelessness have a severe mental health disorder, meaning that some of the aforementioned barriers may be due to houselessness. Being houseless creates serious obstacles to avoiding COVID-19 infection. People experiencing homelessness are more likely to have chronic illness and inadequate medical care.
Prioritize Vaccination for People with Severe Mental Health Disorders
Eventually, everyone should have access to the COVID-19 vaccine. However, according to JAMA, “there is an ethical duty to prioritize vaccination for people with [severe mental health disorders] given their increased risk of worse outcomes following COVID-19 infection and the structural barriers faced by people with [severe mental health disorders] in accessing a vaccine.”
There is a lot to consider in rolling out the vaccine to the millions of people who need it. When it comes to people with severe mental health disorders, providing education, removing barriers to access, and making this group a priority for vaccination is key.
If you are struggling with a mental health or substance use disorder, there is hope. Amatus Recovery Centers offers high-quality treatment for mental health disorders and addiction in facilities across the country. We will help you build a life in recovery. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.