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COVID-19 vaccinations for children with disabilities: what are the options? Families look for help

Some parents who have children with disabilities said getting them the COVID-19 vaccine has been a difficult process.

CARROLLTON, Va. — Children 12 and older are now eligible to get the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, but some parents say it's been difficult to find a process that works for their children with disabilities.

Jeanine Scherrer said she registered her son Trevor for a COVID-19 vaccination at a local grocery store, but Trevor didn't respond well to the new environment.

Trevor -- who has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism -- can experience sensory issues. Scherrer said he was moving too much to safely get a shot, and when she offered to help the vaccinators, she was told she couldn't for liability reasons.

“And so we left and I was frustrated, I wanted him to get it," said Scherrer. “It shouldn’t be a struggle."

Scherrer said a COVID-19 vaccination would help protect Trevor from the virus and let him work on socialization.

“A lot of kids with autism, their social skills are lacking, so we need to get him out into the environment and out doing things," she said. 

She said other parents of children with disabilities are reaching out to her, reporting they're also finding problems getting their kids vaccinated. Scherrer said she'd love if someone could come to their house and give Trevor a shot at home, a comfortable environment.

“The less distractions and the less movement for him the better," she said.

We asked the Virginia Department of Health: what are the options for parents of children with disabilities?

A spokesperson responded with a statement of options, saying in part, "Virginia has been working to improve support for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including autism, when they participate in COVID-19 vaccination clinics across the Commonwealth."

VDH says parents can call their local health department to request accommodations, like a homebound vaccination. The health department also says all large community vaccination clinics (CVCs) in Hampton Roads have vaccinators trained to work with children with autism.

Plus, Virginia is now sending more vaccine doses directly to doctors and pediatricians, so parents could call to schedule a vaccination appointment in their offices.

A CHKD spokesperson said the hospital is receiving a shipment of vaccine doses for children 12 and older this week, and parents should call to schedule appointments. 

"We absolutely have staff trained to work with children with special needs or with families who have special questions," a CHKD spokesperson said. "These are folks who really want to serve, [families] should call their primary care pediatrician."

Trevor, a 16-year-old with a talent for basketball and a love of playing cards, has been learning at home and mostly isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic, his mother said. 

“I just want him to be vaccinated so we can be safe, just like all the other immunizations," Scherrer said. 

A VDH spokesperson said the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services also developed a training program for vaccination staff that includes adaptive communication and sensory issues. 

AshBritt and Autism Speaks also created a toolkit that includes a card any person with autism can bring with them to a vaccination appointment to explain what accommodations would be most helpful.

Families can sign up for a COVID-19 vaccination at this link.

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