Certain populations continue to be more vulnerable to COVID-19 and why that’s important for us all

For the past 3 years, COVID-19 has been an ever-present consideration in people’s personal and professional lives. As treating rehabilitation professionals, it is important to incorporate the most current research into everyday practice. This includes COVID-19 considerations beyond those of the initial response to the pandemic.

Physiopedia Plus (Plus) strives to provide the most up-to-date clinical information on a wide range of rehabilitation topics, and recently updated a course on COVID-19 and vulnerable populations. This course was originally created in 2020 during the uncertainty of the pandemic, and provided information on suspected populations who were most vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. The course also had a special focus on displaced persons living in camp settings. Three years later, there are unfortunately still large populations of people living in camp settings. However there is new research on how the long-lasting effects of COVID-19 are effecting persons across the globe.

Populations vulnerable to COVID-19

The Lancet Commission on COVID-19: Task Force on Humanitarian Relief, Social Protection and Vulnerable Groups published a review in 2022, which looked deeply into the data on the effects of COVID-19.

The pandemic not only induced a public health crisis, but has led to severe economic, social, and educational crises. Across economies and societies, the distributional consequences of the pandemic have been uneven. Among groups living in vulnerable conditions, the pandemic substantially magnified the inequality gaps, with possible negative implications for these individuals’ long-term physical, socioeconomic, and mental wellbeing.”– the Lancet Commission on COVID-19: Has Force on Humanitarian Relief, Social Protections and Vulnerable Groups

They found that certain populations have been, and continue to be, more vulnerable to COVID-19. These groups include: 

  1. People living with disabilities
  2. people with pre-existing medical conditions
  3. Older people
  4. People living in low resource settings
  5. Refugees/displaced people
  6. Children
  7. Girls/women
  8. Indigenous people

The Lancet Commission went further to say that COVID-19 infection and death rates were unequal across the global population, and that the greatest burden was placed on those persons living with intersecting vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities are often found at the crossroads of socioeconomic and healthcare needs. Rehabilitation professionals, such as physiotherapists, are uniquely positioned to provide assistance to protect these vulnerable patients from falling through the cracks of the healthcare system.

Reflections from a rehabilitation professional

In my role of creating courses for Plus, working on updating the COVID-19 and vulnerable populations course with these findings made me stop and think about vulnerable populations in my immediate part of the world. Living in an urban area in the United States has provided access to vaccines, antiviral treatments, and basic sanitation and personal protective equipment (PPE) needs. However, even within my city of Texas there are vulnerable populations: older people living in care facilities where they have no control over COVID-19 screening or infectious disease protocols such as masking, people living with disabilities and/or impaired immunity who are left unprotected as the general public stops masking and social distancing, people experiencing homelessness living in camp settings.

Most, if not all, of the physical therapy clinics across Texas serve medically vulnerable individuals among their patients… The health and safety of our patients remains our top priority when they are under our care” – Mike Geelhoed, President of the Texas Physical Therapy Association

Texas continues to have a humanitarian crisis at our southern border where studies are finding migrants and refugees are facing the same socioeconomic barriers to care (poverty and marginalisation) as identified in the Lacent Commission study. The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the social and economic inequalities already present in society, now our challenge as healthcare providers is to rise above and respond to this information with open hearts and arms.

This data challenges us as clinicians to see our patients and clients in the summation of their humanity, not just their medical diagnosis, and help meet their needs on a greater scale. To improve their physical abilities by supporting their basic human needs.

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