Online offer to help overcome COVID-19 vaccination fears for disabled and autistic people

Friday 24 September, 2021

Extra support to ease any anxiety of disabled and autistic people wanting to get vaccinated for COVID-19 is now available, thanks to a partnership between Explore and the Ministry of Health.

Many, including disabled and autistic people, may show signs of anxiety and distress when it comes to injections and needles; now a range of support is available to help alleviate their fears.

This ranges from online learning tools for carers and whānau, to one-on-one telehealth support via phone and video conferencing for disabled and autistic people, their families, and their support people.

Autism Vaccination Support

Identifying the need

Concerns have been raised in Aotearoa New Zealand and internationally about how disabled and autistic people will access the COVID-19 vaccination.

“Disability alone does not put people at higher risk of getting COVID-19, but related issues can lead to a higher risk of people contracting it,” says Sean Versteegh, Clinical Psychologist and General Manager of Mental Health & Wellbeing at HealthCare New Zealand.

“It’s particularly important that disabled and autistic people can access the vaccination successfully.”

Research shows that 34% of people with intellectual disabilities dislike needles. This can occur for a range of reasons, including past experiences, pain sensitivity, or lack of understanding about the vaccine process.

“A lot of people are going to experience some anxiety when they get the COVID-19 vaccination but there’s many techniques we can use to remain calm and make the whole experience much more tolerable,” adds Sean.

The tools to succeed

The team at Explore Specialist Advice, working with the Ministry of Health, is now providing one-on-one support to autistic and disabled people who are experiencing anxiety around the COVID vaccination. In keeping with Government alert levels, this will be offered as telehealth support via phone and video conferencing for disabled and autistic people, their families, and their caregivers.

To complement the specialised service, the Explore team has also developed a resource kit, including an online e-learning module, for support workers and whānau who are assisting disabled and/or autistic people with the COVID-19 vaccination. There’s also training to help vaccinators provide extra support for those who need it.

“These resources were created through a collaborative partnership between HealthCare New Zealand, health sector training provider MySkill, and local learning and development consultancy Like-Minded”, says MySkill General Manager Anita Guthrie.

“By combining our strengths and listening to those who need us, we can make a meaningful difference to Kiwis’ lives in this challenging time.”

“It’s important that we make these resources free to anyone who might find them useful. We want to remove as many barriers as possible, especially for people with less equal access to healthcare such as Māori,” says Josephine Gagan, Acting Chief Executive of HealthCare New Zealand.

All of these resources can be accessed for free, by visiting

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