Why autistic people should get the COVID-19 vaccination
07 January, 2022
Like many other people, I caught COVID-19 over the Christmas break. Given that I am double jabbed and boosted, I was surprised by how unwell I felt. For nearly a week I was laid low with fatigue and muscle aches, sleeping 12 hours a day (unheard of for me!). I am now fully recovered, but I couldn’t help thinking: thank God I’m vaccinated, how much worse would this have been if I wasn’t?
Over the last year, I’ve received several requests from autistic people for a ‘medical exemption’ from the Covid vaccine, on the grounds of having autism. In each case, I have politely declined.
There is no evidence that the vaccine is more dangerous for autistic people. On the other hand, there is reason to believe that the Covid illness itself could potentially be more harmful for autistic people. People with co-occuring autism and intellectual disability (otherwise known as learning disability) are definitely more at risk from the virus.
My message to any unvaccinated autistic people is please, please get the vaccine. The consequences of catching the virus are much worse than any potential side effects from the vaccine. I recognise that some autistic people have sensory sensitivities that may make getting an injection in a busy vaccination centre difficult.
If this is the case, speak to your GP about getting the jab in a quieter, more familiar environment, or possibly having a mild sedative beforehand if you have severe needle phobia. The National Autistic Society has information about coronavirus on its website, and my local autism hub in Leeds produced an excellent coronavirus toolkit (no longer available).
In other news, we have now set up an autism working group within the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The aim of the group is to bring together autistic people and psychiatrists representing all the faculties and devolved nations of the College, to share best practice and help shape the College’s strategy on autism. I want to make sure that all psychiatrists are able to do three things:
- recognise the possibility of autism when assessing patients
- treat mental health problems in autistic patients
- communicate effectively with autistic people and their families/carers, and make reasonable adjustments when appropriate.
Over the coming year, I’ll update you on our work to achieve this goal. For now, I would like to wish you all a happy (and healthy!) New Year.