APA Statement on COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution for People with Serious Mental Illness and Substance Use Disorders

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 18, 2021 – As the COVID-19 vaccine is being administered across the country, the American Psychiatric Association called on state public health authorities today to include people with serious mental illness (SMI) and substance use disorders (SUD) to the equivalent of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Phase 1-C of their prioritization schedules. The recommendation coincides with APA’s recently released guidance document, The Role of the Psychiatrist in the Equitable Distribution of the COVID-19 Vaccine.

Phase 1-C, as defined by the CDC includes people who are 65-74 years old, essential workers, and anyone between ages 16-64 with high-risk medical conditions. According to new guidance released by APA, which is corroborated by a growing body of research: “People with SUD and SMI are not only at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 but are also more likely to be hospitalized and experience serious complications, including death.”

“It’s all too common that people with serious mental illness and or substance use disorders don’t have access to health care, are of low socioeconomic status, or, based on history, harbor mistrust toward the medical establishment,” said APA President Jeffrey Geller, M.D., M.P.H. “States should treat psychiatric illnesses like other high-risk conditions and prioritize this population’s access to the vaccine.”

“APA and its member psychiatrists have worked throughout this pandemic, many on the frontlines,” said APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A. “We will continue to promote policies that keep our patients safe, particularly getting vaccines that require two doses over time.”

The guidance was created by the APA Committee on Psychiatric Dimensions of Disaster, Committee on Integrated Care, Council on Communications, Council on Minority Mental Health and Health Disparities, and Council on Healthcare Systems and Financing. It is available on APA’s COVID-19 Information Hub.

American Psychiatric Association

The American Psychiatric Association, founded in 1844, is the oldest medical association in the country. The APA is also the largest psychiatric association in the world with more than 38,800 physician members specializing in the diagnosis, treatment, prevention and research of mental illnesses. APA’s vision is to ensure access to quality psychiatric diagnosis and treatment. For more information please visit www.psychiatry.org.

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