Vaccine Clinic Answers the Call and Offers Hope

April 01, 2021

Special Saturday Clinic successfully vaccinated 100 more adults with autism as project continues to fill an important need.

In partnership with the Visiting Nurse Association of Central Jersey (VNACJ), Autism New Jersey was proud to extend their Special Needs COVID Vaccine Clinic with a special event on Saturday, March 27 that vaccinated 100 adults with autism.

Recognizing the substantial demand for vaccines and the limited number of appointments available, VNACJ staff expanded their regular clinic with special Saturday hours to accommodate those waiting for the vaccine.

“Since launching our partnership earlier in March, we’ve received more than 700 pre-registrants, with 250 vaccines now complete after Saturday’s event,” noted Ellen Schisler, Autism New Jersey’s Associate Executive Director. “And while more appointments are scheduled each day, the demand continues to outweigh supply.”

With the state’s vaccine eligibility expanding on April 5 to include all those with intellectual and developmental disabilities 16 and older, we expect that trend to continue for the immediate future.

“They went out of their way to accommodate my daughter, including bringing the vaccine to her when she was too afraid to walk across the floor to the tent. Thank you.”

“The staff and personnel were extremely helpful and made my son feel comfortable and calm. This is a lifesaver for our family.”

“Everyone I spoke to couldn’t have been more courteous, helpful and caring. This is a wonderful display of compassion for our special needs population — and their parents!  Thank you.”

“I can’t thank you enough for making Collin’s vaccine so smooth. I was met by someone who personally escorted me to a safe tent. The nurse spoke to him with such respect.”

“The process of getting my two 19-year-old sons their vaccine was perfect and so organized! Everyone there made our sons feel very much at ease.”

Meeting the need

The clinic’s success is measured by more than just number of vaccines administered, as important a benchmark as it is.  The clinic has served as a microcosm of the spectrum of needs and underscores the challenges faced in providing options for those with autism and severe challenging behavior.  For many, they have nowhere else to turn.

“Current public options such as pharmacies and mega-sites are frequently not equipped to handle the needs of those with autism,” noted Autism New Jersey Executive Director, Suzanne Buchanan.  “VNACJ has taken measures to reduce wait time, minimize paperwork, and set aside quieter waiting spaces.”

Dr. Buchanan explains the range of complex needs seen by the clinic. “While most vaccines were administered without a hitch, some required persistence and creative solutions.”

On full display Saturday was the patience and professionalism of the VNACJ nursing staff.  They were willing to go above and beyond to address behavioral needs, both simple and complex. One nurse sang “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” Another coaxed conversation from reluctant patients about their favorite doll or food.  They strategized administering the vaccine in vehicles after episodes of lunging and kicking.

One parent lauded, “Please thank the nurses who helped my frightened son.  They showed their humanity, and we are grateful.”

“Unfortunately, a few left without a vaccine,” added Buchanan. “The sad reality is that their needs exceed even what a special needs clinic can provide.  However, we’re determined to help find solutions for them, too. Our goal is to ensure no one is left out.”

Many drove for more than an hour for the opportunity, fully aware of the promise that being vaccinated offers after more than a year of being isolated at home and with limited access to treatment and services.

Public officials observe clinic in action

This initiative was recognized the day before Saturday’s clinic with an open house event on March 26th hosting esteemed guests at the Bell Works facility in Holmdel, NJ including champions of this project and the autism community.

In attendance was U.S. Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ 4th District) Co-founder and Co-chair of the Congressional Autism Caucus and a staunch advocate for the autism community for more than two decades and State Senator Declan O’Scanlon, Jr. (R-13), who first connected VNACJ and Autism New Jersey and saw the potential that the partnership could have for adults with autism.

“With hundreds vaccinated and scheduled to be vaccinated, this project’s success is a testament to what collaboration amongst healthcare professionals, autism experts, and local, state, and federal government officials can achieve,” added Dr. Buchanan.

Congressman Smith, ally and author of landmark federal legislation to fund research and services across the lifespan, offered perspective. “Families touched by autism face numerous challenges each and every day,” he noted. “This successful partnership between Autism NJ and VNACJ provides practical and considerate accommodations enabling caregivers to schedule their loved ones to receive the vaccine in a safe, comfortable environment.  This extraordinary collaboration will save lives and help many with developmental disabilities move past the isolation of COVID.”

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