Press Release: Vaccine passports would deepen discrimination against people with autism

Apr 27, 2021reThinking Autism blog

Thinking Autism charity warns that vaccine passports could further entrench discrimination against people with autism

In World Autism Month, national charity Thinking Autism has warned that vaccine passports could further entrench discrimination against people with autism, who are among the most marginalised and vulnerable members of the community.

The trustees of the charity have issued a statement which reads:

“There are a number of factors which could prevent people with autism from having a covid vaccination.

Many individuals with autism have comorbid health issues which may make vaccination risky. For example, 20-40% experience seizures at some point during their lives, and epilepsy is the leading cause of death in autism. The average life expectancy of a person with autism and learning disability is just 39.5 years.

We are concerned about the lack of data on the safety of the vaccine for those with autism who may also be prone to seizures or who are already epileptic. This is especially worrying given that the Yellow Card reporting system indicates that seizures are a possible side effect of both the Pfizer and Astra Zeneca vaccines.

Furthermore, there are many other medical conditions which are highly prevalent in autism, including allergies and autoimmune disorders. Diagnostic overshadowing in autism (the widespread tendency to attribute symptoms of other medical conditions to autism) means that there may be many individuals with autism whose allergies and autoimmune disorders have not been diagnosed. The presence of severe allergies is a contraindication for the covid vaccinations. 

“Given the complex presentation and large number of (often undiagnosed) comorbid medical conditions in autism, our charity recommends that, as a precaution, they should not be required to have the vaccine until more research into its effects on this cohort has been carried out.”

Given the complex presentation and large number of (often undiagnosed) comorbid medical conditions in autism, our charity recommends that, as a precaution, they should not be required to have the vaccine until more research into its effects on this cohort has been carried out.

In addition to the medical issues, many individuals with autism exhibit profound behavioural challenges, sensory processing difficulties and extreme anxiety. Trypanophobia (fear of needles) is common in individuals with autism, making it difficult or impossible to administer vaccines without full anaesthesia. It is for this reason that people with autism often have to undergo regular dental check-ups and procedures under general anaesthetic.

 Behavioural challenges and altered sensory processing in some autism can also make it impossible to conduct a nasal swab test.

These issues are likely to lead to situations where individuals with autism would suffer blatant discrimination due to their inability to obtain a vaccine passport or a negative test result.

Routine is very important to many people with autism, who may well experience major distress if barred from participating in their usual activities due to lack of a vaccine passport. Moreover, those with severe communication difficulties might not be able to understand the reason for their exclusion, and may express their frustration through self-harming or aggression.

These problems would also increase the burden of stress and anxiety borne by the carers of those individuals.

We therefore hold that mandatory vaccine passports would further deepen the discrimination experienced by individuals with autism and their families.”

For further information please contact the Thinking Autism trustees.

notes to editors

1.Thinking Autism is a UK charity providing support and information to families and individuals affected by autism.

2. Further Reading

Medical Comorbidities in Autism Spectrum Disorders

Identifying and managing seizures in autism

Hirvikoski T, Mittendorfer-Rutz E, Boman M, et al. (2016) Premature mortality in autism spectrum disorder. Br J Psychiatry. Mar;208(3):232-8 – link.

Schendel DE, Overgaard M, Christensen J, et al. (2016) Association of Psychiatric and Neurologic Comorbidity With Mortality Among Persons With Autism Spectrum Disorder in a Danish Population. JAMA Pediatr. Mar;170(3):243-50 – link.

Autism Moms Have Stress Similar To Combat Soldiers

The psychological impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on adults with autism: a survey study across three countries – link.

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