I am furious about this.
Do you know what the second highest risk factor for dying from COVID is? The highest is old age. The second highest is having a diagnosis of schizophrenia.
This was first reported much earlier in the pandemic. I heard about it. I even mentioned it to an Ohio State University friend who used to head up my city’s health department. But scientists seem to be repeatedly surprised by it. And the government has done basically nothing about it.
Now it’s Year 3, and it’s news on NPR????
If the second highest risk factor for COVID deaths were health disease or lung disease or diabetes, do you think something would have been done to reach out to those folks? Of course. So why was there no effort to help people with schizophrenia?
People with schizophrenia were left off the priority list for help in my state, Ohio, and many others. My loved one with a schizophrenia diagnosis had to wait until people his age were allowed to get vaccines.
NPR interviewed Katlyn Nemani, a neuropsychiatrist and researcher at New York University. She described the initial reaction to the data showing that people with schizophrenia were three times more likely to die from COVID than the general population. It was disbelief.
“They said it must be because people with schizophrenia are already worse off health-wise, or because they have trouble accessing health care,” she said. That turned out to be wrong.
Studies from countries with free universal health care … the United Kingdom, Denmark, Israel, South Korea and so on … came in, also showing that people with schizophrenia were two to five times more likely to die from COVID.
Yet, the CDC didn’t add schizophrenia to the list of high-risk conditions until people began getting booster shots in October 2022. Other countries, like England, Germany and Denmark, put people with schizophrenia on the priority lists for vaccines at the beginning.
Nemani told NPR that this discovery could be good for people with schizophrenia. She said it may mean that the badly understood illness has a component in the immune system or elsewhere in the body. It could lead to new understanding and new treatments … for those with schizophrenia who are still alive, that is.
My own guess? It’s stigma. Far too many people think that the lives of people with schizophrenia do not matter. If they die from COVID, so what?
Schizophrenia is tough enough without the stigma. It affects 24 million people in the world, including 2.8 million in the United States.
This is barbaric. It’s time to fight for people to see the disease as a disease, not a disqualifying condition for living a good life. I am furious. I am sickened. I am sad.