RI drive-up vaccine clinic aims to eliminate barriers for those with special needs


WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — An upcoming COVID-19 vaccine clinic is open to all Rhode Islanders 12 years and older, but is designed for children, youth, and adults with special needs in mind.

The R.I. Parent Information Network (RIPIN) is hosting the drive-up clinic in partnership with the R.I. Department of Health and R.I. Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT) on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. outside RIPIN’s office at 300 Jefferson Boulevard in Warwick.

Emily Garthee, the Growth and Development Officer at RIPIN, says it’s a great option for individuals with special needs and their caregivers.

“Perhaps maybe they don’t want to go to one of the larger clinics and might have exposure to others, maybe for an individual that needs extra support transitioning to new activities or new situations or anyone with mobility challenges, you’ll be seated in your car the whole time,” Garthee said.

“The DMAT team has experience caring for individuals with special needs, and the RIPIN team also are community health workers and many of them are caregivers themselves,” Garthee added. “So, we’re hopeful to provide a welcoming environment for all families, but also just provide families with another option for vaccinations.”

Tammy Russo, also with RIPIN, told 12 News it was a challenge trying to find her son Joey an appointment that would fit his needs. The 28-year-old has severe cognitive disabilities, including autism.

“Going to these really unfamiliar settings can really induce a lot of anxiety in Joey, and that can come out in a multitude of ways,” Russo said.

Russo says she was hoping to get Joey an appointment through his primary care doctor’s office, but was told they weren’t offering the vaccine.

“At the doctor’s office, with his autism, he expects that he might have to have a shot,” Russo said. She added that with autism, a routine is everything.

When she took her 17-year-old son to his second dose vaccine appointment at the mass vaccination site in Cranston, Russo found out she could request a private room there for Joey.

Joey was able to get his first dose in a private room last Wednesday, but his mother says the 15-minute observation period following the vaccine being administered was not also secluded.

“He was still very emotional after…. still crying, and I felt terrible about that,” Russo said.

Russo hopes the second dose appointment will go smoother, or that Joey’s doctor will offer vaccines by then. She says while RIPIN’s drive-up clinic wouldn’t be the best option for Joey, she thinks it’s a great option for families who have other needs.

“It helps to make the process speedy and convenient and that will work for some people that have other disabilities, but it’s always going to be on an individual basis,” Russo said. “It’s just really nice that it’s a community-based place,” she added.

A spokesperson for the R.I. Department of Health told 12 News RIDOH has worked very closely with its partners to accommodate special needs that vaccinees may have throughout all of its clinics.

“In this particular case, the drive-through format of the clinic itself provides accommodations to anyone who has mobility, sensory, or developmental disabilities. Individuals are vaccinated without having to get our of their car. They are able to stay comfortable in their own space, and should they have any special needs, they can utilize mitigating or coping strategies throughout their vaccination experience. Our goal is to make it as easy and convenient as possible for anyone who is eligible to be vaccinated,” RIDOH spokesperson Annemarie Beardsworth said.

Organizers say while people can drive up without an appointment and have multiple people who want to get vaccinated in each car, preregistration on VaccinateRI.org is encouraged.

Garthee says vaccine recipients will remain in their car during the 15-minute observation period, so bringing along reading materials or a travel activity to pass the time is recommended.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



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