Vaccine outreach for disabled students

By Matthew Scott
Sommerville School student Carter, 12, receives his first dose of the vaccination at a NRHCC outreach clinic on Tuesday. Photo: Supplied

Two days spent at disabled schools in Auckland this week have allowed health officials to vaccinate almost 300 members of a vulnerable community

New Zealand’s vaccination rate continues to climb, with almost a third of the country having received two doses.

However, there remain groups with particular vulnerabilities to the virus, from lower rates of vaccination or pre-existing health conditions.

With more difficulty finding access to vaccination and testing centres, the disabled community is one of those groups.

An article in the British Medical Journal earlier this year found people with learning disabilities who caught Covid were five times more likely to be admitted to hospital and eight times more likely to die.

The group of epidemiologists and academics behind the study called for prompt access to Covid testing and healthcare for this vulnerable group, as well as vaccine priority.

In New Zealand, despite some vaccination centres aiming at the disabled community - such as a low-sensory input clinic in Petone - fears that the disabled community were being neglected in the rollout were reported last month.

This week, the Northern Region Health Coordination Centre took steps to address this potential oversight, by taking a special vaccination clinic to two schools for disabled children around Auckland.

On Tuesday, the team vaccinated 80 students and their families at Sommerville School in Panmure, before moving to Parkside School in Pukekohe, where they vaccinated 200.

Belinda Johnston, principal of Sommerville School, said the opportunity to get vaccinated in a familiar and friendly environment made the prospect much less daunting for many of the students.

“For some, being in an unfamiliar situation doesn’t help their anxiety levels, so being able to have them here in a friendly, quiet environment where they are supported is just amazing,” she said. “We’ve got some very happy families who couldn’t have had their children vaccinated without this opportunity.”

Parkside School principal Carol Willard agreed, saying she was delighted her children and their whānau had the chance to get the jab in a place they trusted.

She said most of the students wouldn’t have coped with getting it done in an unfamiliar environment.

“Instead we have happy, smiling students being vaccinated in the comfort of the classroom and with their families and familiar staff beside them,” she said. “It was wonderful to see.”

Kate Mortimer, whose daughter Sophia is a student at the school, said the clinic was vital.

“I don’t think we would have been able to do it any other way,” she said. “Sophia get really nervous around medical procedures.”

Shortly after having received her vaccine, Sophia seemed in fine spirits, and was on her way home to have ice cream for lunch.

Willard said Parkside School, which caters to students aged from five to 21 with learning difficulties and physical or cognitive impairments, has a number of students who couldn’t cope with going to the mainstream vaccination centres.

“So working alongside the DHB, we’ve come up with this idea of doing the vaccinations at school,” she said.

Parkside School principal Carol Willard said the clinics made things easier for families who were struggling in a difficult time. Photo: Supplied

While the clinics were initially set to launch before lockdown, the outbreak meant a bit of rescheduling. However Willard said this had doubled the number of students who attended.

“All we’re trying to do all the time is make things easier for our families who are struggling,” she said. “Particularly at this sort of time, when they are bereft of some of the support systems that work around them during normal school terms.”

NRHCC Disability lead Katie Daniel said the vaccination centres of Auckland are accessible to the disabled, but taking the clinic out to the schools enabled the students to feel safe and comfortable.

“The schools we are working with are really supportive and want to make it as easy as possible for their students and family members to get vaccinated,” Daniel said. “It’s been a true collaboration and one we are thrilled to be part of.”

The NRHCC has plans for two more similar clinics next Monday, at Wilson School in Takapuna and Wairau Valley School.


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