Shawn Keith, executive director of the Autism Society of South Carolina, talks about the organization’s vaccine program to the Department of Disabilities and Special Needs on Thursday, Nov. 16. 2023. With federal grant funding, the program expanded this year to provide free vaccines to anyone who needs them. (Provided / South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs)
NORTH CHARLESTON — Free COVID-19, flu and shingles vaccines will be available Monday in North Charleston as part of a federally funded program meant to increase access to immunization.
The Autism Society of South Carolina is working to vaccinate more people who may otherwise hesitate. After Monday’s event at the North Charleston Library, the next one will be Dec. 9 at the Autism Society’s West Columbia headquarters.
The program launched in 2021 with a focus on getting people with disabilities vaccinated. After receiving a grant this year from the national Aging and Disability Vaccination Collaborative, the scope expanded to include anyone needing a vaccine.
The focus remains on elderly and disabled people, but the organization is also encouraging minorities, LGBTQ people and rural residents who may lack access to health care.
Anyone who gets their shots at a clinic can also receive a $25 gift card for filling out an anonymous survey to collect demographic data, the society’s director, Shawn Keith, told the state’s commission for people with disabilities during a Thursday meeting.
Some people with autism may avoid getting shots because the experience is so overwhelming, leaving them at higher risk of disease, Keith said.
The Autism Society attempts to make the experience more sensory-friendly by handing out bags with sunglasses, noise-canceling headphones and fidget spinners.
“Sometimes, dealing with vaccines, (people with autism) get very apprehensive,” Keith said. “We have methods of trying to calm them to ensure that it’s a pleasant experience.”
That can also be calming for people without autism who may be hesitant about getting a vaccine. Plus, the process is free, opening it up for people without insurance or who can’t afford vaccines otherwise, he said.
The Autism Society has coordinated vaccinations for 100 people so far this year. The goal is 600 by the time the grant runs out in April, Keith said.
Because the Autism Society is only the coordinator, the nonprofit is looking for health care organizations to give the vaccines in order to meet that goal, Keith told the commission.
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