Autism Speaks Canada joins disability groups calling for priority access to COVID vaccine for people with autism

As government health agencies coordinate distribution plans and priority access for newly approved COVID-19 vaccines, Autism Speaks Canada joins other disability groups in advocating for the autism community to be among those prioritized to receive access to this critical protection.

“Research suggests that autistic people, who have a higher risk for other health conditions and are more likely to live in group or supported living facilities as adults, are at greater risk of contracting COVID and developing severe disease,” said Thomas W. Frazier, Ph.D., chief science officer at Autism Speaks. “Priority access to the COVID vaccine for autistic individuals and the health care and direct care professionals who work with them, will allow autistic people to safely get the services and supports they need, so many of which have been limited as a result of the pandemic.”

Today’s statement acknowledges that the autism community has been more severely affected in many ways by the pandemic. Examples of the challenges resulting from the outbreak include:

  • Many public health measures can be very challenging for people with autism, depending on each individual’s support needs, as evidenced by reported difficulty wearing masks and social distancing.
  • In addition to school and work closures, many children and adults with autism have been unable to get the medical care, therapies and education services they need to reach their full potential.
  • Many autism diagnosis appointments, which had long waitlists before the pandemic, have been delayed, potentially impacting access to therapies and services to children.
  • Direct service providers and health care personnel who assist people with autism, have encountered shortages of personal protective equipment and a higher risk due to their working environment.

Further, a recent survey by Autism Speaks Canada, CASDA and the McMaster Autism Research Team (MacART) found that over 75% of respondents reported feeling stressed, anxious and worried amidst the pandemic. 79% of families reported negative effects of disruptions to education and learning. Overall, the survey indicated multiple barriers to accessing necessary services and supports for autistic people and their caregivers. Highlighting that the autism community was struggling to have their diverse needs met.

“Its about equity – priority should be given to more vulnerable populations – notably people with developmental disabilities including autism, people with other co-existing health concerns, and those living in supportive living facilities. Prioritization in getting the COVID 19 vaccine would restore participation in community life, and most importantly enable access to vital services and supports,” said Jill Farber Executive Director of Autism Speaks Canada.

Autism Speaks and Autism Speaks Canada has not independently verified the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine, but it is important to note that the weight of scientific evidence indicates that vaccines do not play a role in the development of autism. As with any other medical decision, families and individuals should work with their healthcare providers to make decisions that are right for them. Please reference the Government of Canada website for vaccine roll out details.

Autism Speaks Canada urges federal public health officials and policy makers to prioritize the health of the most vulnerable Canadians, including those with autism spectrum disorders, for access to any approved COVID-19 vaccine.

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