Parents of children and young adults with autism are saying the lack of accessible COVID-19 vaccination and testing centers is putting unnecessary stress on their families.
Wexford’s Kerry Hennessy is struggling to get boosters for her daughter, Hannah, 23, who has autism. “She doesn’t understand the pandemic, she can’t wear a mask, she can’t social distance.”
Hannah was originally vaccinated despite her day service. However, HSE advised her to visit a mass immunization center in Enniscorthy to get a booster. Hannah has behavioral problems. There will be queues to get vaccinated… it will take a long time for Hannah to feel comfortable.”
Ms Hennessy called her doctor, who agreed to vaccinate her daughter. “The doctor has to vaccinate her in the car park in the car… If I had brought her to the doctors… she would be very upset.”
Sharon McManus of Salthill in Galway has a son (10) with autism. Miles was tested for Covid at a major centre. “We met with an employee at registration and I told him that Miles had autism and was worried about getting tested. He didn’t respond.”
However, Ms McManus says the tester was encouraging and talked Miles through the process. Miles became distressed at one point during the trial and started screaming. “The tester appeared apprehensive during the process but did a great job.”
Ms. McManus would like to get a vaccine for her son, but she would prefer to bring him to a GP clinic or pharmacy, where she can explain his needs in advance.
She also thinks there should be a way to include additional information before testing and vaccination. “It is not appropriate to give sensitive, personal information while standing in a queue in an open area. There is no privacy, and these conversations can increase anxiety for the child.”
Jane Johnstone of Wexford has two sons who have additional needs. Her son Ivan is 21 years old. He has autism and intellectual disability. He was initially vaccinated through his day service. Her second son, Daniel, is 17 years old and also has autism. He received his initial dose of the vaccine at a mass vaccination centre.
While she says the vaccination staff couldn’t be nicer, Daniel became overwhelmed by the strange atmosphere and engaged in self-harming behavior. “He got very upset in the room. People were looking inside. I know it’s only human nature, but where is his dignity and privacy?”
The nurse who vaccinated Daniels reassured her and she got the vaccine, but even the 15-minute wait after the jab was too hard, she says.
“Once we got back in the car, I put on my sunglasses and a few tears rolled down my face. Why couldn’t we do it in an environment that was more familiar? such as a respite or school, or a clinic for specially-abled people?”
Daniel and Evan both found boosters in their GP’s car park that were best for their safety but lacked privacy, she says.
In a statement, HSE said that the appointments offered to vulnerable adults were primarily through vaccination centres, but there were some bespoke, onsite and GP clinics.
There is also a standard operating procedure for immunization of children with additional needs, and HSE said parents can request these accommodations by contacting HSE Live, who can alert the immunization center prior to their child’s appointment .
HSE said some specialist clinics are also available, such as CityWest in Dublin and a center in Limerick. “Furthermore, any child (or adult) who is unable to leave their homes to receive vaccination will receive a booster vaccine at their homes. It’s going to start at the end of next week.”