A study published in the Journal of Child Neurology (September 2021) found of the families surveyed, more than 28% believed that toxins in vaccines may are to blame for their children’s ASD, and as a result, are nearly 12 times more likely to be vaccine-hesitant than those who did not attribute their children’s ASD to vaccines.
While there has not yet been a significant amount of research among families of ASD children specifically regarding COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy, the concern Hope For Three shares with its service provider constituents is the families they serve are often reluctant to have their children vaccinated against COVID-19. Given the recent surge with the new Omicron variant, Hope For Three believes now, more than ever, it is vital families are sufficiently educated and hopefully convinced to have their child(ren) vaccinated. Reaching thousands of families who have children with ASD in our service area will likely be a daunting task.
To be as effective as possible in our outreach, pending funding, H43 has secured the commitment of Emily Hotez, Assistant Professor at David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. As it happens, Dr. Hotez was one of four authors of the eClinicalMedicine journal article referenced above and has designed a training program for service providers for individuals with I/DD regarding the effective promotion of COVID-19 vaccines. Dr. Hotez has generously agreed to provide this training via Zoom for Fort Bend County ASD service providers for a $1,000 honorarium.
Through its Family Assistance Resource Support (F.A.R.S.) program, Hope For Three makes direct payments to ASD service providers for economically disadvantaged Fort Bend County families of ASD children so they can access timely and vital interventions for their children. We also refer anyone who requests information to resources for ASD services. Hope For Three has a vast network of autism service providers who collectively serve thousands of families. We will work with Dr. Hotez to make the service provider training program relevant and specific to our local network of providers. Then in collaboration with community partners such as Access Health, Hope For Three will promote the program directly to our provider network, with a virtual “live” version and a recorded one to allow providers to take the training at a time/date convenient for them within a one-month window. Our hope is that by training the providers, they, in turn, will promote the importance of COVID-19 vaccination to a minimum of five client families each (with an estimate of four family members each) – effectively reaching up to 1,000 families or 4,000 individuals.
In addition to being able to serve their clients/patients better, incentives for service providers to participate in the training are opportunities to obtain CME/CEU credits and a stipend of an Amazon gift card (valued at $30) upon successful completion of the course. To qualify both for the CME/CEU and gift cards, attendees must prove registration and the newly gained knowledge in the form of an electronic survey. We will follow up with attendees within two months after their attendance to determine how they implemented their knowledge to enlist the participation of their patients/clients in having their child(ren) with ASD vaccinated for COVID-19. Ultimately, the long-term impact we hope to attain with this program is a higher vaccination rate for COVID-19 among families of ASD children, resulting in fewer and less-severe cases of the virus and a marked decrease in fatalities within Fort Bend County, Texas.