Adults with autism, intellectual disabilities or mental health disorders are at increased risk for COVID-19 and severe illness, researchers report.
Being aware of the heightened risk is important in prioritizing COVID-19 prevention measures, such as vaccination, testing, masking and distancing for these groups, the researchers said.
"These high-risk populations should be recognized by clinicians, and these groups should be prioritized for vaccine outreach and education," study co-author Whitney Schott, a research scientist at Drexel University's Autism Institute, said in a school news release.
The researchers analyzed Medicaid data to assess COVID-19 risk factors among adults ages 20-64 with autism, intellectual disabilities and mental health disorders, as well as a control group of adults without those conditions.
Certain factors elevated their risk. For example, autistic adults and those intellectual disabilities or mental health disorders were more likely to live in a residential facility, receive in-home services from outside caregivers, have an avoidable hospitalization and have a high-risk health condition, compared to adults in the control group.
If they did develop COVID, these individuals were more likely to develop severe illness, the researchers found.
The study was recently published in the journal Autism.
"Care providers, policymakers and advocates should be aware of the higher rates -- among autistic adults, adults with intellectual disability and adults with mental health diagnoses -- of risk factors for contracting COVID-19 and more severe illness if infected," said study co-author Lindsay Shea, an associate professor at the Autism Institute.
It's important to intensify outreach efforts to vaccinate these vulnerable groups, and trusted care providers with preexisting relationships may be in the best position to help them become vaccinated, according to Shea.
It's also crucial to provide up-to-date information about COVID-19 safe practices, the authors said. Besides vaccination, these include wearing masks, maintaining physical distance, hand washing, avoiding crowds and increasing ventilation.
The Autism Society has more on COVID-19.
SOURCE: Drexel University, news release, Aug. 30, 2021