Training vaccines help people overcome COVID-19 vaccine fears
Margie Garcia, the mother of an 18-year-old autistic girl, desperately wants her son to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
But she worries that the sight of the syringe will trigger her anxiety, causing her to run away or attack someone.
So, last week, her son Niko held a workout at a dummy clinic with dozens of other young adults and children with developmental disabilities. He went through a registration process, then a nurse placed a syringe – without a needle – against his arm and bandaged the spot. Then he sat in an observation area, wearing red headphones to block out any unexpected noise. All around him, in the parking lot, floated bubbles and balloons.
The clinic’s goal was to create a controlled environment free from stimuli that could cause distress, and it worked for her son, said Garcia, 47.
“It’s so difficult to get to a climate of population vaccination without special needs,” said Garcia, who feared her son would be overwhelmed by unexpected noise or bright lights. “It’s really, really beneficial for him.”
For most children and young adults with intellectual disabilities, the vaccination process goes smoothly. The scene at the mock clinic held by the Friendship Foundation – a Redondo Beach nonprofit – was mostly calm, and aside from a few grimaces and cuddles, most of the attendees got through the simulation with ease.
But reactions to a new environment can be unpredictable and cause concern among parents and advocates. Some are reluctant to expose their children to situations that might cause them to panic and physically resist. People with autism don’t always respond to orders from a stranger. The mock clinic itself was inspired after a parent shared the story of their son having to be held up to receive the vaccine.
A standard vaccination clinic, advocates say, is not always a good place for some people with disabilities to get vaccinated: the appointment windows are rigid, the time to get comfortable in a new environment is limited, waiting areas are overwhelmed. The experience can be a source of anxiety for anyone. For those who don’t understand what the process involves, it can be debilitating.
In order to facilitate the home vaccination process, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department this year unveiled an initiative called Operation Homebound, which sends teams of health and police officers to immunize the elderly and people with disabilities at home. .
But the program, which uses the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, has been suspended following a pause in vaccine distribution.
Home vaccines would be preferred for people with disabilities who are afraid of needles or have difficulty controlling their bodies, said Disability Voices United President Judy Mark.
âWith this option off the table at the moment, it is essential that these people train and feel prepared before getting the vaccine to reduce their fear and discomfort,â she said. “We have to find a way to provide health care, to provide services for people with developmental disabilities that works for us – not for the system.”
The simulated clinic – a collaboration between Disability Voices United and the Friendship Foundation in partnership with vaccine supplier Curative Inc. – offered walk-in and drive-through options. Curative was due to return in a few weeks to the same location to administer a single dose of Johnson & Johnson – although it is not known now when that might be.
âThey are going to see doctors today, they are going to see medical personnel. It’s going to give them practice to ease their spirits, âsaid Nina Patel, Executive Director of the Friendship Foundation. The space was well known and most of the assistants were familiar faces – trust was already established.
The purpose of the mock clinic, although developed with the vaccinees in mind, was twofold: patients could feel comfortable with the idea of ââan injection in a safe space, and families could offer staff feedback on what to do – and what not to do. make.
Don’t ask overly complicated questions.
âTry to keep it simple,â nurse Jiamin Lin, 30, said. Lin, who worked with Curative to administer the vaccine, said a big piece of advice she received was to lift two fingers so that a patient could point to them and answer “yes” or “no.” Lessons like these, along with videos and photos from the event, would be shared with healing staff and other members of the disability community.
Many families who showed up at the mock clinic had children who are not yet eligible for the vaccine, but will be in the coming months. For them, early practice was welcome.
Carrie Wetsch, 48, said her 14-year-old son Tyler doesn’t do well with needles. And the pandemic has limited her boy’s social interactions. The ability to pretend to be photographed from the comfort of the car was an experience that will benefit Tyler in the long run.
âThis positive memory for him, I think, will make a huge difference. It can make or break an important medical situation, âshe said.
Brandon Velasquez, 39, felt the same. He had prepared his teenage son throughout the week for the experience. He was nervous and can’t always communicate his feelings, his father said. But he reached the final stage, accompanied by his father and his puppy, Kobe.
âI feel good,â the boy said inside the waiting room.
For someone like Niko Garcia, an autistic teenager, the ability to be photographed in a familiar space is essential. To reduce the risk of misunderstandings with authorities, Niko’s mother registered him with the local sheriff’s department in Carson as a child with special needs.
âHe has a disability and he’s Asian. Today Niko is doubly discriminated against, âsaid his mother, Margie Garcia.
When the 15 minutes were up, participants raised five staff members and took home gift bags filled with balloons, candy, and stickers.
Mission accomplished – the real blow would come soon.