Herd Immunity and the Most Vulnerable
COVID-19 has stolen so much joy from each of our lives. We are missing out on the traditional activities of major milestones and the closeness of hugs from the people we love. Each of these missed moments is amplified several times over for the most vulnerable in our community. We reached out to advocates for our elders, children, and those who have developmental disabilities to learn a little bit more about what life has been like for them and what they have to gain when we finally reach herd immunity and restrictions are lifted.
Brittany Canfield, DNP, is a healthcare provider for patients and residents of the Centers for Living and Rehabilitation. Her patients include elders and others who would find it difficult or unsafe to live alone.
According to Canfield, not being able to see their families regularly has been the biggest struggle. “We only recently started to allow visits. They are only 15 minutes, and families and patients are definitely wanting more time together.” She notes the limitations of video conferencing and telephone calls for maintaining close connections. “They didn’t grow up communicating in that way. There’s really no substitute for face-to-face interaction.”
She will be grateful to have families back at the bedside. She knows her patients will be happier and healthier too. “No one knows a patient as well as their family members do. Families provide valuable insights our teams can use to improve care for patients.”
Courtney Randall works at United Counseling Service. “Most of the people we work with count on staff to bring them on outings, shopping, community activities, bank trips, and rides. They count on us to fulfill their day with enjoyment, and we love spending time with them.”
She treasures getting to know each of her clients as an individual and to learn the valuable lessons they have to share, including “what happiness looks like, what gratefulness looks like.”
She describes what life has been like throughout the pandemic. “Due to the pandemic, staff have not been as available to perform all the duties they once did for the folks we work with. This has caused a great deal of anxiety, depression, and frustration. For some, it completely took away their daily routine and outings with their peers.”
Randall is eager to be able to take her clients safely out in public again. For many, outings, even just to get coffee, were a major highlight. “I can’t wait to bring back those important routines and sources of joy for our clients.”
Audra Prandini, BS, is an Early Childhood ED-VT licensed educator and a developmental educator for Children’s Integrated Services (CIS) Early Intervention in Bennington. She has seen how the pandemic has affected young children.
“We have seen a five-fold increase in children with speech delays,” she said. “Children learn by example. When caregivers are wearing masks, children cannot see or hear them speaking as well as they had in the past, and they develop difficulty imitating speech.”
For example, she described a child who could say the complete word “more” only when the speech pathologist pulled down her mask to say the word in a way the child could see. When the pathologist replaced her mask and said the word, the child reverted to saying only the “m” sound.
Prandini’s colleague Danielle Bacon, BA, a developmental educator for CIS Early Intervention, has noticed an increase in anxiety among children and families.
“They spent so much time with their parents during the quarantine phase of the pandemic, they are seeking out their parents more when they are at childcare or school,” Bacon said.
Once the population has reached maximum vaccination and restrictions are relaxed, Prandini and Bacon anticipate anxiety in children will dissipate slowly over time.
“Children are learning from the very first day they are born,” Prandini said. “So the speech delays will likely endure for some time, as infants born during this time attempt to catch up.”
Getting a vaccine is a great way to reach herd immunity and be able to safely lift restrictions for everyone, including the most vulnerable people in our population. Vaccination appointments are available now, and several walk-in clinics are being launched all over the state. See the vaccine section at www.healthvermont.gov/covid-19 to schedule yours.