UC Davis Institute Offers COVID-19 Vaccines in Clinic Tailored for Fragile X

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by Mary Chapman |

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Many COVID-19 clinics are large, crowded, and on the boisterous side, which can be overwhelming for people with fragile X syndrome and other neurodevelopmental disorders needing to go there for vaccination.

Such concerns led the UC Davis MIND Institute in Sacramento, California, to open a custom-designed clinic for vaccine administration.

The clinic, which opened this summer, has a calm, sensory-friendly environment tailored to the needs of patients and their families. In addition to people with fragile X, a genetic condition associated with cognitive impairment and learning and behavioral challenges, it serves those with conditions such as Down syndrome and autism.

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“This clinic really focuses on quality rather than quantity,” said Scott Akins, director of MIND Institute clinical programs, in a press release. “We want to provide an inclusive, supportive experience for families, so we’re vaccinating three families per hour, which allows us to have three quiet rooms, an uncrowded waiting area, and staff fully dedicated to each patient.”

The clinic is open one day weekly — either Thursday or Friday — from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. It’s available to all with neurodevelopmental disorders ages 12 and up and their family members, regardless of insurance status.

Child life specialists are involved in every aspect of the vaccination process. Such specialists are trained in helping young people with neurodevelopmental conditions deal with medical procedures.

“It’s really important that as child life specialists we look at the development of the child because you may have a 20-year-old who’s developmentally less mature. So we want to be able to prep them in a way that is matched to what they understand and need,” said Erin Roseborough, a MIND Institute child life specialist.

Before each appointment, for example, the clinic contacts the family to determine the patient’s needs and interests. So that there are no visit surprises, the families are apprised of what to expect.

“We develop an individualized coping plan with the family ahead of their arrival,” said Veronica Tuss, another MIND Institute child life specialist. “We provide preparation materials such as a social story, which is a step-by-step description, with photos, of what to expect at each stage of the appointment, starting in the parking lot.”

The room in which COVID-19 vaccinations are administered is equipped with a comfortable chair and a large sensory machine that includes a calm-inducing tube of bubbles as well as lights, aromatherapy, and a projector that displays images on the room’s ceiling. There are other sensory items available, including squeeze balls, “pop-it” toys, and a selection of bandages with designs that include tacos, ninjas, and cute animals.

Following vaccination, patients spend 15 minutes in an observation room tailored to their interests. “One recent patient was into art, so we had drawing supplies all set up for her and ready to go, and she colored the whole time,” Roseborough said.

One 13-year-old autism patient, Freddie Miller, was happy that video games were also in the offing when he went to the clinic for his first Pfizer vaccination.

“I was kind of nervous getting the shot,” Miller said. “It’s just a little bit of a pinch. It wasn’t that bad.”

“I wanted a more controlled environment that wasn’t so chaotic for him,” Syerra Logan, his mother, said. “The loud noises can really trigger some of his anxieties and so I wanted to bring him here where it’d be a little more quiet and neutral.”

The facility was partly funded by a $68,000 grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the MIND Institute’s Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities.

To make a clinic appointment call 916-703-5555, or go to this site.