Parents, advocates say province needs to do better job advertising low-stimulation vaccine clinics

Alberta has two low-stimulation vaccine clinics but parents and advocates say few know about the clinics.

Alberta Health Services spokesperson says clinics are not walk-ins, need to call Health Link

Lisa Humbert said her daughter, Mallory (left) was able to book an appointment to access a low-stimulus vaccine clinic in Spruce Grove. (Google Meet)

Kim Crowder spent days trying to find a quiet environment for her 21-year-old son who has a severe intellectual disability so he could be vaccinated.

He can't wear a mask or wait in line, so when he became eligible for a vaccine on March 30, she spent hours looking for somewhere that could accommodate him.

"There's just so many people and nobody had any ideas for me. Nobody had any answers," she said.

What she wasn't told was a low-stimulus clinic for the Edmonton region was in the works, a space with dim lighting, less noise and fewer clients. 

But by the time the clinic in Spruce Grove opened on April 28, she was able to get approval for her son to be vaccinated at home the week before.

Parents like Crowder and advocates say health officials need to do a better job advertising and expanding options for those who require a calmer environment. 

"I've heard a lot of parents say that it's been difficult," said Crowder. 

"There are a lot of parents who maybe aren't well-networked, that just don't know what to do and maybe have not moved forward with the vaccination process because they really don't know how and they don't have the connections."

Two clinics

Lisa Humbert said she had no idea the clinic existed when she called Health Link to book an appointment for her 13-year-old daughter, Mallory, who is on the autism spectrum. 

She said her daughter had a great experience at the Spruce Grove location and that more families could benefit. 

"Having people there that understand what you're going through and are gentle and patient with your child ... makes it a lot easier for us in general," said Humbert.

"They do need to put it out there a little bit more, because right now it's word of mouth or when you call 811 to book."
Mallory Humbert, 13, got her COVID-19 vaccine at the low-stimulus vaccine clinic in Spruce Grove. (Submitted by Lisa Humbert)

The Spruce Grove clinic is the second of its kind in Alberta, with the province's first low-stimulus clinic opening in Calgary on April 14, two weeks after some people with severe or profound learning disabilities or severe developmental delay became eligible for vaccines under Phase 2B.

An Alberta Health Services spokesperson said the clinics are quieter and allow for longer appointment times with staff. The clinic is also located near the front door so clients don't need to walk through a location to get vaccinated.

At the Spruce Grove clinic, dim lights and private spaces are provided.

The clinics can only be accessed by booking through Health Link and after an assessment with a nurse is completed.

There are no walk-ins allowed and the Spruce Grove clinic is only open one day a week. Calgary's clinic is open for two days each week.

Advocacy group Autism Edmonton said it's important for people to know their options and that they can access low-stimulation environments.

"Sensory processing challenges might lead to decreased participation in the vaccine rollout and so ensuring that people have access to plenty of appointment times and the ability to access clinics where they can manage to get the vaccine with as little discomfort as possible would be certainly a benefit to the entire program," said Melinda Noyes, executive director of Autism Edmonton.

Noyes and Crowder want the province to expand the number of locations and options for people who need a quieter environment.

"I really hope that with this low-stimulation clinic, they'll immediately see the desire and the need for that type of accommodation and open many, many more very, very quickly," said Crowder.

"Because we need more than one morning a week, outside the city."