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Richmond vaccination clinic tailored for 'neurodiverse' children

High-tech gadgets help alleviate pain and stress for kids getting their vaccines.

Private rooms have been set aside at a children's COVID-19 clinic for kids who have autism, other neurodiversity issues or are just anxious about getting the shot.

On Friday, the Pacific Autism Family Network building was buzzing with families arriving to get their kids vaccinated.

For those, who were highly anxious about the procedure were able to get it done in one of six private rooms where nurses worked with the kids to alleviate their anxieties.

Brother and sister Declan and Charlotte Christensen were both quite apprehensive about getting their second COVID-19 shot.

They had received their first doses at a drive-through clinic at the BCIT campus in Burnaby.

So, when their parents heard about the Richmond clinic through their son’s occupational therapist, they jumped at the chance to get the second round done at a building they were already familiar with.

Declan had previously attended preschool at the Richmond autism centre.

“He loves this building,” his mother Jennifer Christensen said, adding the atmosphere felt “completely different” from their previous drive-through experience.

“We come in, we’re welcomed, everybody says hello, people are accustomed to working with neurodiverse people, people on the spectrum,” dad Mark added.

VCH began operating dedicated children’s clinics in December and they are tailored so children, parents and guardians have a positive and child-centred experience. These private rooms were designed for kids who were especially anxious, sometimes because of neurodiversity issues.

As of Jan. 4, more than 7,600 kids have been vaccinated at the autism centre.

There are six private rooms where a family can spend time with nurses preparing for the shot.

The clinic, located on the third floor of the Pacific Family Autism Network, has a variety of high-tech gadgets to help kids who are anxious about getting the jab.

When Charlotte got her vaccine, clinic manager Jenesse Macdonald, used a BuzzyHelps – a vibrating toy bee with a miniature ice pack on it – to help detract from the pain.

The device is placed “between the pain and the brain” to help activate the brain and reduce the pain.

In the end, Charlotte reported “it didn’t hurt as much as I expected.”

There is a room where vaccinated kids have to wait 15 minutes to make sure there are no complications.

Its walls are covered in pictures made by kids who have been vaccinated.

In addition to colouring supplies, there’s a tablet in the waiting room hooked up to a pulsometer that guides kids through breathing exercises after their shot.

And to help parents who have language issues, there is a mobile interpreter that will connect to a live interpreter either by phone or video.

Macdonald said they have worked to smooth over the process for children with anxiety.

Sometimes, they have to come up with creative solutions to meet kids where they’re at.

When one child wouldn’t leave the car to come into the building to be vaccinated, two nurses headed out to administer the vaccine in the parking lot, Macdonald explained.

“We want an overall positive experience, even if it’s not a fun experience,” she said.  

Futhermore, as the clinic is in a space already meant for kids with a variety of sensory and mobility issues, it is accessible, Macdonald said.

The second floor of the Pacific Autism Family Network building is also a mass vaccination clinic for all ages.

When booking their child’s appointment through the Get Vaccinated system, parents and guardians can choose from a variety of options based on their child’s specific needs.

The Pacific Autism Family Network is located at 3688 Cessna Dr.

The central intake number for all clincis in Vancouver Coastal Health, which includes Richmond, is 604-263-7377.


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