Calgary family says more needs to be done to help special needs children get COVID-19 vaccines

CALGARY — A Calgary father, whose child is on the autism spectrum, says he can’t get his son, Sam, vaccinated because safety provisions haven’t been put in place by the government.

Dave Reid says his 17-year-old is severely mentally disabled, non-verbal and is terrified of needles.

“If he sees a needle he runs,” said Reid. “His fight or flight instinct kicks in and he is powerful and strong and nobody can hold him down.”

Reid says he and his wife have had to find other measures to keep their son safe while getting routine shots.

“We tried a couple of times in the past to get him vaccinated for his routine shots and we ultimately had to get him sedated at the dental clinic during a routine dental check up and have a public health nurse do his health vaccinations there,” explained Reid.

Reid says currently there is nothing in place to ensure children and adults like his son can get their COVID-19 shots done in a safe manner.

On their first attempt, the family gave Sam Ativan, a medication used to treat anxiety, to calm his nerves. However, that attempt failed and Reid says the vaccine dose was wasted.

“They need to be able to set up a safe environment where they can have medically supervised sedation and be made to feel calm and comfortable so that essentially they’re unaware they are about to get a needle,” said Reid.

Reid says they have tried getting answers from the government, including an email to Health Minister Tyler Shandro, but haven’t heard back.

Furthermore, the father says he’s exhausted every other avenue to no avail.

“The operators at 811 had no answers or insight into any provisions being made for special needs kids. We called the switch board and talked to various clinics including the autism clinic at the Alberta Children’s Hospital nobody knew of anything in the works.”

Alberta Health Services could not comment on this specific case but says it is aware of the issue and working on it.

In an emailed statement to CTV News, AHS says:

“There is a process for individuals with specific needs or circumstances to obtain vaccinations or bloodwork with sedation in place. The same protocols will be used for the COVID-19 vaccination. In children and youth, sedation must occur in an OR setting, therefore it takes time to schedule and arrange. In all cases we need to balance the risk of sedation with the benefit of the vaccine. There is a referral and consultation process for all cases where sedation may be considered.”

Reid says he is hopeful to hear some positive news soon as he says the lack of support bars his son from getting the protection he needs against COVID-19 and the variants. Reid says he is especially worried because his son and other special needs students are still learning in-person at school.

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