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Nystrom’s vaccine advocacy for Type 1 diabetics pays off

During a conference call, Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm heard arguments from a prominent Baxter-based advocate, whose activism for the issues of insulin and prescription drug costs have granted her a national profile.

A person receives a shot of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at a community vaccination event in Martinsburg, West Virginia, U.S., March 11, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

In a life filled with life-sustaining needle pricks, this one might very well be the most important of all.

The Minnesota Department of Health announced March 2 it was adding Type 1 diabetics — or, in other terms, insulin-dependent diabetics — to be included among the prioritized group in the second phase of the state’s vaccine rollout. The decision, as Commissioner Jan Malcolm stated at the time, was grounded with the intent to protect people with underlying health conditions who may experience severe complications if they were to contract COVID-19, as well as to comply with federal guidelines.

Quinn Nystrom, a diabetes advocate and a member of the Minnesota Council on Disability originally from Baxter, said she was among a cohort of people advocating for the congenital, lifelong condition to be included among those protected groups.

Quinn Nystrom.jpg
Quinn Nystrom


“I advocated strongly as I could,” Nystrom said during a phone interview Friday, March 12. “I was absolutely ecstatic to share the news that Type 1s were being added. It was the right decision and I commend the commissioner and her staff on that.”

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Nystrom said the council convened a conference call with the commissioner and her staff in the tail end of February, where Nystrom took the opportunity to argue that Type 1 diabetes be included alongside a bevy of previously excluded conditions like cystic fibrosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its own pancreatic cells, thereby destroying or severely damaging its ability to produce insulin. Insulin is a vital enzyme for processing carbohydrates into energy for the body’s cells. Without insulin, glucose builds up in the bloodstream, which causes ketoacidosis that, given time, is fatal. Thus, Type 1 diabetics, unlike Type 2 diabetics, require daily injections of insulin in order to live.

The direct threats of Type 1 diabetes are mostly derived from whether the body has either too much unprocessed glucose in the bloodstream, or, too little if the individual has inadequate food intake, injects too much insulin, or engages in strenuous exercise.

RELATED: Tri-County Health Care and Wadena Public Health to host joint vaccine clinic These vaccinations will target priority groups in Phase 1b, tier 2, including people with health conditions such as sickle cell disease, Down syndrome, cancer and various other debilitating health problems. This tier also targets high-risk essential food-processing workers. Those in the Phase 1b, tier 3, priority group are also eligible, which include people age 45 to 64 with one or more underlying medical conditions and people age 16 to 44 with two or more underlying medical conditions.
There are a number of indirect effects, however, even for Type 1 diabetics who manage their condition well. Metabolically, Type 1 diabetics are at a disadvantage. The condition often stresses the liver and kidneys, causes the body to recover from injuries or illnesses more slowly and can, given time, cause a host of lifelong pulmonary, nervous, endocrine and other physical complications.

Whether it’s diabetes-related complications, or the difficulties of managing both diabetes and COVID-19 simultaneously, none of these mix well with the coronavirus, noted Nystrom, who said there’s been no shortage of hand-wringing among the state’s insulin-dependent diabetics.

“We’re definitely afraid,” Nystrom said. “I asked (Malcolm) why diabetes wasn’t included in the list of underlying health conditions. (Diabetics) know how serious it is when they get the flu and they were really afraid that they got COVID. It would just be much worse.”


RELATED: Health officials say to remain vigilant as Minnesota loosens pandemic restrictions

The decision to include Type 1 diabetics among prioritized groups comes during the nation’s rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. In the case of Minnesota, as of Saturday, March 13, more than 1.2 million residents have received one of two vaccine shots, while a further 700,000 have completed both shots in the standard vaccine regimen. The state is also in line to receive more than 44,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is reportedly easier to store and handle and requires only one shot for inoculation, not two.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 90 million doses of the vaccine have been administered thus far. This equates to roughly 10% of the United States’ population being fully vaccinated against COVID-19, although it should be noted there have been some concerns raised, so far undetermined, regarding whether new strains of the coronavirus will be fully covered by available vaccines.

GABRIEL LAGARDE may be reached at gabe.lagarde@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5859. Follow at www.twitter.com/glbrddispatch .
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