COVID-19 Vaccines for Special Needs Children: Vaccination Considerations for Parents of Special Needs Kids by Mary Jane Weiss, Ph.D., BCBA-D
Children with special needs will be among those lining up for vaccines as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has now approved Pfizer COVID vaccinations for children 5 to 12 years of age. That the process may be especially challenging for special needs children and their parents, particularly if the vaccination site is an unfamiliar location or is loud and busy. Also, if the child has had traumatic medical experiences, the likelihood of the child becoming anxious or distraught is understandably much higher.
I advise parents to let the staff at the site know ahead of time that your child has special needs and may need extra attention. Perhaps they are unable to wear a face mask or may be uncomfortable sitting still after the shot. Some children may not like the bright lights or noisiness. Accommodations that may be requested are:
- Walking around after the shot instead of sitting.
- Having someone vaccinate the child in your car.
- Having their favorite companion and/or toy accompany them.
- Getting vaccinated in a private room away from the crowds.
If it’s possible to have your child be vaccinated at your pediatrician’s office, a location with which they are familiar, that may be best. The goal is to keep the child calm and to do your best to provide familiar things (a known doctor, a parent present, a favorite comfort toy). As always, if a parent is nervous, the child may sense that and become anxious or agitated as well.
The CDC has said that children, like adults, may experience some discomfort following the vaccine. Side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine may include:
- a sore arm
- muscle aches
Parents whose children have a history of severe allergies should look at the ingredients of the vaccine and consult with their pediatricians. See box above for a full list of the Pfizer vaccine’s contents.
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