Vaccine Accommodations for Individuals with Severe Challenging Behavior

August 16, 2021

With the emergence of the Delta variant causing another surge in cases of COVID-19, there may be renewed interest from families wanting to obtain a vaccine for their loved one with autism.

Additionally, guidance from the FDA regarding booster shots is due soon, suggesting another dose for those already vaccinated.

Understandably, some may have delayed getting vaccinated due a variety of challenges typically experienced when seeking medical procedures. These challenges may include fear and anxiety about the procedure itself, personnel, and settings, and the problem behavior that can be used to communicate that fear and anxiety.

The prospect of an additional booster shot for those already vaccinated may seem daunting as well.

In our previously article, How to Prepare Individuals with Autism for the Vaccine, we offered a number of tips for preparing for a vaccine appointment to minimize the unpredictable.

We recognize that some individuals’ needs may exceed the recommendations in the article above. Here are some additional considerations. We encourage families to call our 800.4.AUTISM Helpline for more support and individualized attention. The ultimate goal is to keep everyone safe and healthy.

Vaccines now widely available

With vaccines now widely available, there are many sites and establishments that offer free COVID-19 vaccinations.


Pick a location that suits your needs.

A good vaccination option may be your pediatrician or primary care physician’s office. The vaccine is widely available to providers and many doctors and medical groups now have the ability and capacity to administer the vaccine themselves.

Getting the vaccine in a familiar environment may help put your family member at ease. If they are already experiencing anxiety around a medical procedure or fear of needles, avoiding bringing them to a new place could make for a much easier and safer vaccine experience.

Pharmacies have administered millions of shots and are open to basic accommodations.

Call ahead to help the staff prepare: Consider calling a manager or the head pharmacist to let them know ahead of time what the individual may need during the vaccination. That way, the staff can be prepared to support the family and the individual getting vaccinated.

If the individual needs to keep on a pair of headphones, be distracted by a family member, or be briefly held in place by a parent or sibling to get their shot, knowing ahead of time can help the staff accommodate the request and ensure the vaccine is delivered quickly and safely.

Pick a time to avoid crowds: Try to schedule an appointment as soon as they open, getting in and out before the store has an opportunity to fill up. If it’s challenging to get the individual to wake up early, family members can try work with the pharmacy and arrange for arrival just before closing for a similarly calm experience.

Addressing aversion to medical procedures

It can be especially hard for an individual with autism to sit through a medical procedure if they can’t stand the sight of a needle or are deeply uncomfortable with the clinical setting. An Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) approach to assess and treat these phobias and aversions can be effective and may be covered by insurance. While this treatment may take time, it can address fundamental challenges that may stand in the way of other medical procedures in the future.

ABA is a compassionate, individualized, and effective way to address the needs of an individual with autism. Working closely with a behavior analyst can provide families with a systematic plan to desensitize individuals with needle phobias and reduce the risk of elopement and challenging behavior during the vaccination.

If you need help finding a behavior analyst, you can visit our free online referral database any time.

For those in need of intensive clinical support

We understand that for some these suggestions may not be practical and more support is needed. If you need help communicating your concerns to a healthcare practitioner, finding a suitable vaccine site, or would like support, call our 800.4.AUTISM Helpline.


Experience our Power of Connection

We’re proud to say that, since the beginning of the pandemic, not one call to our Helpline has gone unanswered. If you need assistance, call us at 800.4.AUTISM or or send us a message/chat with us via the link at the bottom of this page.