Santa, Phantoms mascot make appearance at sensory-friendly vaccine clinic for kids

·4 min read

Wind Gap's Colonial Intermediate Unit 20 transformed their grounds into a sensory-friendly winter wonderland for children to get their COVID-19 vaccines on Thursday.

In an effort to accommodate individuals with special needs and sensory challenges, the facility — which serves Northampton, Monroe and Pike counties with educational, administrative and management services across 13 school districts and three technical centers — partnered with Mt. Bethel Pharmacy and welcomed Santa, Mrs. Claus and their elves to help create a calm environment in which anyone age 5 and up was able to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

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Children with sensory integration disorder —which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines as "a condition in which a child has issues receiving and responding to sensory information, such as seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching" — can easily become overwhelmed in environments such as doctors' offices, hospitals and other locations where vaccines are normally distributed.

Offering up a far more casual and holiday-oriented setting for such children, and others who may experience similar conditions, makes the vaccination far more easy for those patients.

"We understand that at times, children with disabilities may have a little bit of anxiety when they come out to be around medical professionals, for doctors' appointments, things like that," Colonial IU 20 Executive Director Dr. Chris Wolfel said. "So we wanted to set the event up so the kids felt comfortable in more of a different type of environment."

Santa's helpers conducted crafting tables as part of the sensory-friendly vaccination clinic at Wind Gap's Colonial IU 20 on Thursday.
Santa's helpers conducted crafting tables as part of the sensory-friendly vaccination clinic at Wind Gap's Colonial IU 20 on Thursday.

Mrs. Claus greeted guests at the door, offering fidget spinners and other toys, while indoors, a small playground, crafting and calming stations, a Christmas movie area provided a pleasant atmosphere for kids to get their shots and boosters without any issues. Young patients were gifted sensory-friendly gift bags and treats after they got their first Pfizer shots or boosters, and given an opportunity to visit with Santa.

A visit from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms' mascot meLVin certainly sparked joy among the young crowd, as the Puck-Nosed Pladottle roamed across the room and throughout the playground, and of course, taking a moment to hang out with Santa himself.

Patty Roberts, who brought her 5-year-old daughter Ellie out to the clinic, said that she was initially apprehensive about taking her out to get a shot, but once she saw a flyer for the event, she was sold.

"It was important to me, but I was definitely on the fence, so seeing a child friendly, sensory friendly environment for her eased a little bit of my hesitations, and here we are," Roberts said. "With her being so young, I was a bit hesitant, but this environment drew me in."

Mt. Bethel Pharmacy Manager John Chakan said he was pleased with the turnout, after having administered over 100 vaccines in less than two hours.

"I have to say, wow, this has been so successful. People from all over are here, and it just shows that people are paying attention to the seriousness of COVID," Chakan said, adding that he and his team were equipped to dole out up to 500 more doses as of 5 p.m.

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms' meLVin, a Puck-Nosed Pladottle, joined Santa at Colonial IU 20's holiday-themed vaccine clinic in Wind Gap on Thursday.
The Lehigh Valley Phantoms' meLVin, a Puck-Nosed Pladottle, joined Santa at Colonial IU 20's holiday-themed vaccine clinic in Wind Gap on Thursday.

According to Wolfel, Colonial IU 20 will launch another clinic in January for second doses and boosters as well. In March, another Colonial IU 20 vaccine clinic doled out over 5,500 doses of the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine to educators across the region.

Medical professionals are continuing to push vaccines as one of the primary ways in which to protect against COVID-19, especially now that children ages 5 and up are eligible to get their shots, especially after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's recent ruling to strike down the school masking mandate. Concerns about the appearance of the omicron variant have also pushed physicians to encourage more vaccinations and boosters for those who are eligible.

Just over 20% of COVID-19 cases in Monroe and Northampton have appeared in those between the ages of 5 to 19; in Pike, nearly 22% of cases fall into that same age range.

Vaccinations among those in the school-age range are picking up across Monroe, Pike and Northampton, though there is still a long way to go.

As of Friday, Monroe reports that 11.2% of 5 to 9-year-olds have had at least one dose of the vaccine, along with 30.3% of those age 10 to 14, and 46.9% of those age 15 to 19. In Pike, 10.9% of 5 to 9-year-olds have had at least one dose of the vaccine, along with 27.7% of those age 10 to 14, and 57.6% of those age 15 to 19. Northampton shows 18.2% of 5 to 9-year olds have had at least one dose, along with 37.3% of those age 10 to 14, and 55.5% of those age 15 to 19.

Brian Myszkowski covers the COVID-19 pandemic in northeast Pennsylvania and is based at the Pocono Record. Reach him by emailing bmyszkowski@poconorecord.com.

This article originally appeared on Pocono Record: Sensory-friendly vaccine clinic is a holiday hit with young patients

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