getting the vaccine to people with phobias, disabilities and cognitive impairments

Posted on 3rd March 2022

For people with extreme needle phobia, cognitive impairments or psychological disorders, getting vaccinated can be an overwhelming and traumatic experience.  

A special in-home/onsite vaccination service ensures that disabilities and phobias aren’t barriers to getting vaccinated and being protected against COVID 

Seven-year-old Ben*, who has autism with a PDA (pathological demand avoidance) profile, recently received his first vaccination by cohealth while under general anaesthetic for a dental procedure.  

Ben is highly intelligent but can become overwhelmed in certain situations. He doesn’t like medical environments, becomes distressed if people try to rush him, and struggles with multiple instructions. Ben also has an extreme needle phobia 

His mother, *Emma, says, “Ben has an elevated threat response, so basic instructions and requests are very confronting for him. What we think of as just normal life, he interprets as a direct threat.” 

The prospect of getting Ben vaccinated had been overwhelming for Emma, who couldn’t see a way forward. But an upcoming dental procedure for which Ben would be under an anaesthetic proved to be the perfect opportunity.  

It was just a matter of finding the right organisation to administer the vaccine to this special kid!

While she doesn’t care for children in her usual role, Disability Liaison Officer at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, Kerrie Gill was delighted to be seconded to help children with disabilities receive COVID-19 vaccines.

As Ben’s Disability Liaison Officer, she contacted Sally Wilcox, Vaccination Project Manager at cohealth to see if her team could help.   

“For some people, sedation is the only option. I said I’d find an organization that could vaccinate Ben while he was under anaesthetic. The first organisation I called was unfortunately unable to assist,” said Kerrie. 

“I came across cohealth via the booking management system. I rang Sally and she was amazing from the first second I spoke with her.  

“She said cohealth would do whatever was needed to support someone with special needs to be vaccinated,” said Kerrie. 

“Sally said that not only would cohealth be able to do the vaccination, but the nurse could come out to help Ben stay calm during the preparation for his procedure. Ben doesn’t like medical environments, so it was important for him to receive supportive, individualized and collaborative care.”

“My heart was so warm after talking with Sally. She really understands that some people need extra support,” said Kerrie. 

Sally said that working with Kerrie to get a good outcome for Ben and his mum was important. 

“I said absolutely we could make the vaccination happen,” said Sally Wilcox, cohealth Vaccination Project manager 

“Two of our vaccination team attended the medical practice and supported this boy and his mother with patience and sensitivity,” she said. 

“The first hurdle was distracting him long enough to get him sedated by the anesthetist. A bubble blower and fidget spinner, came in handy, and Ben was soon under anaesthetic.  

“We worked quickly to get him vaccinated, and then left so that they could complete the procedure,” said Sally.  

cohealth coworkers, Rebecca Moroney and Shirlene King, said that it was one of the most rewarding days they’ve had since the vaccination rollout commenced. 

In-home and onsite vaccinations have been especially useful for kids with special needs, but there have been a number of adults who cohealth has also supported, including a woman who hadn’t left her home in two years, and needed her dog with her at all times. 

This week the team will vaccinate three elderly people, each who have advanced dementia. 

The in-home vaccinations are labour intensive, requiring pre-inreach visits, safety checks, phone calls and chats with carers prior to the vaccination to ensure a smooth process on the day. 

 “This goes to the heart of what cohealth stands for. We’re making sure that people have equal access to health services, especially those who have existing disadvantages,” said Sally. 

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