Sudbury·Audio

Special COVID-19 vaccine clinics in Sudbury, Timmins to 'limit sensory overload'

The public health units in Sudbury and Timmins are hosting sensory-friendly vaccine clinics that are designed to be less overwhelming for people with mental disabilities, individuals with issues with noise or lights, or who may have a fear of needles or crowds.

Dimmer lights, fewer people, quieter noise levels, a slower pace make sites less overwhelming

Health units are holding special sensory-friendly COVID-19 vaccine clinics where lights are dimmed, and there are fewer people and less noise, meant to help individuals who have developmental disabilities, or may be fearful of needles or crowds. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Public health units in Sudbury and Timmins are hosting sensory-friendly COVID-19 vaccine clinics for people in the northern Ontario cities who struggle with conventional clinics.

They're designed to be less overwhelming for people with developmental  disabilities, autism  or other issues with sensitivity like light or noise. Individuals may also use the clinics if they're fearful of needles, crowds or have social anxiety.

"If people have been to other clinics, they know they're hopping places," said Sherry Price, a health promoter in the health equity department at Public Health Sudbury and Districts.

"We try to limit that, so we have less lanes; we try to lower the lights. We try to keep it as quiet as we can."

The clinics will have dimmer lights, fewer people, quieter noise levels and a slower pace. They're meant for anyone aged 12 and up.

Anyone attending those clinics are allowed to bring items that may help with their comfort, like a fidget spinner, a stress ball, a weighted blanket, headphones or an iPad.

This worker at the sensory-friendly COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Greater Sudbury had fidget spinners and stress balls available for those coming to the clinic and needing a distraction. (Submitted by Public Health Sudbury and Districts)

 "If we can limit the sensory overload for those people, it's helpful," Price said.

"It can be scary for you and I, but it's even more scary for them," said Ashley Pelland, area manager for Adult Enrichment Centre based in Sudbury.

Her clients with mental disabilities often struggle in these types of settings.

"They have trouble understanding what's going on and trouble accepting that there's these new people that are trying to help them, and they don't understand help like we do," she added.

Pelland is hopeful that by planning these clinics, health units are acknowledging these types of sensory-friendly accommodations are needed for other aspects of the health-care system.

"It's just being understanding, caring and accommodating, which is the whole thing with this," she said. 

"I think it's going to be a very positive step for them, for everybody."

Pelland has one criticism with the special vaccine clinics.

"It probably would have been more beneficial to do it a lot sooner than they have, but better late than never."

Public Health Sudbury and District plans more sensory-friendly COVID-19 vaccine clinics in the near future. There are no set dates yet.

"It would be great if we could do all of the clinics in this very slow manner. It's just not possible because we've a lot of people to immunize," Price said.

"We do the best we can at all our clinics but this one is just extra special."

Mass vaccination clinics for COVID-19 can be overwhelming places, but two health units in the northeast are trying something different. They're called sensory-friendly vaccine clinics. They're a great place for people with special needs or anyone that might find the whole mass vaccination experience overwhelming. 8:49

With files from Warren Schlote

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