In 2021, Julie served as a stakeholder engager for a qualitative investigation on COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in neurodivergent communities, with the goal of increasing public health efforts towards increasing vaccine confidence among this population. The manuscript recently got published, which can be accessed here. In this role, she and a team of other stakeholder engagers interviewed medical professionals, those in the neurodivergent community, and their caregivers to better understand the barriers to getting vaccinated, and factors that contributed to vaccine hesitancy among the neurodivergent community.
Vaccine hesitancy is a major barrier to vaccination, hindering the success of vaccine efforts and thereby increasing public health risk to viral diseases, including COVID-19. Neurodivergent individuals in particular, including individuals with an intellectual and/or developmental disability, have demonstrated a heightened risk of hospitalization and death due to COVID-19, highlighting the need for further research specifically within this community.
The study identifies misinformation, perception of vaccine risk, sensory sensitivities, and structural hardship as the most significant barriers to COVID-19 vaccination. The study highlights the importance of accommodations to vaccination for the neurodivergent community, alongside coordinated efforts by healthcare leaders to direct their communities to accurate sources of medical information. This work will inform the direction of future research on vaccine hesitancy, and the development of programs specific to the neurodivergent community’s access to vaccines. This study led to the team creating an informational social media page (@NeurodiversityHealthChats) as a communication strategy to make vaccine confidence visible, address misinformation, and enhance COVID-19 vaccination among neurodivergent communities to include evidence-based vaccine information and guidance for accessible vaccine distribution.