By: Rachel C. Passmore, MPH; Lisa H. Shulman, MD


On Wednesday, November 17, 2021, 185 individuals with Autism and other developmental disabilities (DD), family members of individuals with DD, and professionals in the disability field logged onto the webinar COVID-19 Vaccines & Children with Developmental Disabilities: Let's Talk for a discussion on COVID-19 vaccines for children with autism and other developmental disabilities led by Dr. Lisa H. Shulman.

Dr. Lisa Shulman is a developmental pediatrician who specializes in the care of children with autism and is the Interim Director of the Rose F. Kennedy Children’s Evaluation & Rehabilitation Center (RFK CERC) at Children’s Hospital at Montefiore (CHAM) in the Bronx, New York. For the past 10 years, she has given a lecture entitled “Shattering the Myths around Vaccination” for families in the Bronx as well as worked with pediatricians on communicating with vaccine hesitant families. The Bronx is composed of 90% minority residents, has the highest COVID-19 hospitalization and death rates out of all five New York City boroughs[1], and, along with Brooklyn, has the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rate out of all NYC boroughs[2].

Almost 20 years before there was a COVID-19 vaccine for parents to be hesitant about, families with a child with autism have refused or been reluctant to vaccinate that child and often all subsequent children in the family due to concern that it would result in autism. Families of children with autism and other developmental disabilities are among the most vaccine hesitant parents there are because of misinformation and a long since retracted medical study claiming that autism is caused by the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine.

“When COVID vaccination for children was recently approved, I knew we needed to develop a customized presentation just for families of children with autism, providing accurate and clear information and acknowledging their underlying vaccine hesitancy while talking about COVID-19 vaccines. That is why we developed this webinar specifically for this population of parents.” Dr. Shulman says.

Questions asked during the Let’s Talk webinar included:

  • Will my child get myocarditis from the COVID-19 vaccine?
  • Does my child really need the COVID-19 vaccine?
  • Are children with genetic syndromes, epilepsy, and autism okay to receive the vaccine?
  • Are the COVID-19 vaccines safe to take since they were developed so quickly?
  • My children are very afraid of needles or have many sensory sensitivities and do not do well with vaccines. How can they get the COVID-19 vaccination?

Dr. Shulman addressed each question in a clear and concise manner. At the end of the webinar, attendees voiced their thanks in the chat box. One attendee, a parent of a child with a disability, said “Thank you, everyone! After we all contracted COVID in March of 2020, I was ready for the vaccine immediately for myself but hesitant for my son. I feel better now after hearing from you!”.

Attendees also shared feedback via an anonymous survey, distributed during, and again after, the presentation. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive. One family member of an individual with DD shared “I am appreciative of how this webinar actually included and discussed children with disabilities because I feel like they are always forgotten” and that she learned how “children with disabilities have a higher risk” of COVID-19 infection than children without disabilities. Another parent said, “The information on autism was most important to me [and] I learned my child will be safe with this vaccine”.

Rachel Passmore, MPH, Project Manager at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Andrea Deisher, RN, BSN, MPH, Senior Research Coordinator at RFK CERC at CHAM, coordinated the webinar. The webinar was presented in English, with simultaneous Spanish and American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation.

If you missed the webinar, you can check it out on the VaxFactsDDNY webpage.

The VaxFactsDDNY project focuses on providing New York’s developmental disabilities community with science-based information on COVID-19. This project is supported by the New York State Developmental Disabilities Planning Council: Grant # DDP01-T00021GG-1100200 (Einstein College of Medicine) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent / Administration on Community Living grant to expand access to COVID-19 vaccines to older adults and people with disabilities (Einstein College of Medicine).