MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – JJ, 24, has Down syndrome. His family has taken every measure to protect him from COVID-19.

“It’s been absolutely terrifying or our family,” Leslie Neugent, JJ’s mother said.

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Neugent, who also works as a minister with adults with Down syndrome, said they have been on lockdown since March.

Researchers found that individuals with Down syndrome were almost five times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID and at 10 times higher risk of death from the disease. They suspect immune abnormalities, along with three copies of chromosome 21 rather than two, make people with Down syndrome more vulnerable to severe COVID-19.

A spokesperson for the Minnesota Department of Health told WCCO the state will follow CDC guidelines, putting the state’s Down syndrome adult population in 1C unless they are in a congregate care setting – which is in tier 3 of the 1A phase.

“Now being behind 2.4 million people doesn’t seem like a prioritizing at all, especially when there’s only 3.6 million adults in Minnesota,” Down Syndrome Association of Minnesota executive director Sarah Curfman said.

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There’s now a petition online asking the governor to move people with Down syndrome into 1B, saying roughly 80% of the state’s Down syndrome population lives with family or in the community.

MDH officials were asked Tuesday about the plans to vaccinate those who are under 65 but have higher risk conditions.

“They need to get vaccinated as soon as we have more vaccine available, but unfortunately that is the problem,” infectious disease expert Kris Ehresmann said. “We just do not have enough vaccine available.”

Curfman said they have not received a response from the state. The DSAM estimates there are around 2,200 adults with Down syndrome in Minnesota.

To sign the petition, click here.

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Kate Raddatz