COVID-19 Vaccine & People with Autism
Autism is a complex neurological brain disorder that comes with behaviour, communication and social challenges. It is believed that 9000 children in Malaysia are born with autism on a yearly basis. In 2021, the CDC reports that people with developmental conditions or on the autism spectrum are at a greater risk of contracting COVID-19 as they are more likely to have difficulty communicating symptoms and maintaining preventive measures. As a member of the Person with Different Abilities (PwD) or Orang Kelainan Upaya (OKU) community in Malaysia, the government is committed to providing COVID-19 vaccination to those that have been greatly affected by the pandemic.
If you are a caregiver to a person with autism, here is everything you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccination in Malaysia:
Before the Vaccination
As the primary caregiver of the person with autism, you are in the best position to anticipate the needs of your loved ones for their vaccination appointment. However, here is a list of items that are crucial for the appointment or recommended for a person with autism:
Vaccination Appointment Must-Haves
- Mobile Phone
- Identification Card
- OKU Card (if available)
- 2 copies of the consent form (downloadable from MySejahtera)
Recommended for Person with Autism
- Numbing cream
- Tablet Devices and/or Visual Support
If your loved one is fearful of needles or injection, you may consider using a numbing cream before the vaccination. This will avoid your loved one experiencing major discomfort or pain during and after the injection and can help to reduce the fear of getting their 2nd dose. The COVID-19 Immunisation Task Force (CITF) has advised the following brand of numbing cream which can be applied on the upper arm of the non-dominant side an hour before the injection is administered:
- EMLA Cream
- Lignocaine Cream
Tablet devices and visual support are also highly recommended for the journey as the vaccination process may involve several waiting areas and an observation period that may be challenging for some individuals with autism. If available, you may also familiarise your loved one with visual aids of the vaccination process at the venue.
If your loved ones are prone to aggressive behaviour in an unfamiliar situation, it may be useful to consult with a healthcare professional before their appointment.
On The Vaccination Day
Visual Support of Vaccination Process for People with Autism
The difference between a vaccination process for a person with autism and a ‘standard’ vaccination process depends entirely on the individual. If your loved one requires more assurance and distraction, a timer at each waiting area may be necessary along with a reminder of the vaccination process at every checkpoint.
If your loved one begins to exhibit aggression during the vaccination process, you can also address this concern with the attending staff present and when possible, special accommodation can be made based on the PPV.
Visual Support Provided by the COVID-19 Immunisation Task Force
For the comfort and safety of you and your loved one during the vaccination appointment, the Covid-19 Immunisation Task Force has also provided customisable visual support to help your loved one throughout their vaccination journey. These can be kept on your person during the appointment to keep your loved one informed at all times on the vaccination process.
After the Vaccination
After the vaccination, your loved ones are likely to experience the common side effects of the vaccine. This may include:
- Pain/swelling on the injection site
- Headache or dizziness
- Muscle or joint pain
- Fatigue and reduced appetite
These side effects can last for 48 to 72 hours after receiving the vaccination and is a sign that the vaccine is working. Side effects are common for each individual but a lack thereof is also not a cause for concern. If your loved one experiences no side effects, the vaccine will still protect them from a COVID-19 infection.
Access to COVID-19 Vaccination for People with Disabilities
As we continue our fight with COVID-19 and strive to achieve herd immunity within this year, individuals with autism that are eligible to receive the vaccine should be vaccinated against COVID-19. As more government initiatives are being implemented to prioritise people with disabilities (PwD) or the OKU community, we can be hopeful that the vaccination process will improve and be more accessible and inclusive soon.
- BERNAMA (2021) Astroawani.com. Available at: https://www.astroawani.com/berita-malaysia/oku-sentral-drivethrough-ppv-raise-capacity-40000-shots-five-months-303773 (Accessed: June 22, 2021).
- CDC (2021) COVID-19 and Your Health, Cdc.gov. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-with-developmental-disabilities.html (Accessed: June 22, 2021).
- Yeoh, R. (2021) Where does autism fit in stem cell therapy? Here’s all you need to know! – July 2021, Motherhood.com.my. Available at: https://story.motherhood.com.my/blog/where-does-autism-fit-in-stem-cell-therapy-heres-all-you-need-to-know/ (Accessed: July 26, 2021).