Iowa Creates a New Vaccine Clinic for Patients with Unique Needs

November 20, 2023

Iowa’s Center for Disabilities and Development (CDD) has a new vaccine clinic for children and some adults with unique needs, including sensory issues, anxiety, and other disabilities. Earlier this year, the mother of a child with autism got in touch with CDD, looking for a place to get her child vaccinated against Covid-19. CDD clinical nurse manager Sheree Murphy, RN, took up the challenge, and enlisted the help of UCEDD program coordinator, Anne Crotty, MPH.

CDD includes the state’s tertiary level evaluation and diagnosis center, along with Iowa’s UCEDD, LEND program, and the Hawk-IDDDRC. Murphy and Crotty had worked together on “blended” projects before. Murphy knew the development of a vaccine clinic at CDD would not be easy, because CDD had never done vaccinations, of any kind. No needles, ever! CDD clinicians aimed to ensure that patients, including children with a variety of unique needs, would feel comfortable during their appointments, not afraid.

Murphy and Crotty reached out to UCEDD associate director, Caitlin Owens, LMSW, who identified the initial funding source for the new clinic. They would use funds from the Administration for Community Living, which had been made available during the pandemic to help people get vaccinated. The funding were used to establish the vaccine clinic, which involved “sprucing up” the CDD Comfort Room, which had been created to provide OT services in a soothing environment.

A PhD candidate in Epidemiology from the UI College of Public Health helped with the project, doing surveys. A literature review showed that 8% of children have an anxiety disorder, and 66 % have a needle phobia. A fast-working L.M.X.4 lidocaine-based cream was identified as the pharmacological choice to numb the skin, along with Information on assistive technology to restrict limbs, and toys for distracting patients from the shots. Blowing bubbles and windmills worked best. Apple juice, Goldfish and fruit gummies were the favorite rewards.

Half-hour appointments allowed time for the patients to relax, play, get comfortable, and then to be monitored after the Covid-19 vaccinations. Murphy and medical assistant Lizeth DeLeon staffed the clinic. When the pandemic officially ended last spring, 30 patients had been vaccinated. A post-appointment survey revealed all “5s” on the satisfaction scale, showing the clinic was off to a great start.

Since then, the U.S. Department of Aging has provided additional funding to continue to develop the clinic. Now, with the vaccine clinic close to being ready for a new launch, Murphy and team are doing promotion and outreach. For questions about the clinic, get in touch with Caitlin-Owens at [email protected].


Learn more about the clinic in an article by Taylor Wessel for the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, “Where a COVID-19 vaccine clinic succeeds for kids with sensory issues.”

Local news KCRG-TV featured a story on the clinic, “UIHC staff work to make vaccination process more comfortable for patients with sensory disorder issues.”