All Brains Belong VT Offers Customized Vaccination Clinics | Kids VT | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Local Guides » Kids VT

All Brains Belong VT Offers Customized Vaccination Clinics

By

Published September 6, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.


Freya Anderson-Myers, 9, getting a booster. - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • Freya Anderson-Myers, 9, getting a booster.

Bins of colorful fidget and sensory toys were the first things most people saw when they walked up to the All Brains Belong VT vaccination clinic  on the Statehouse lawn last month. Josie and Eleanor Leeper, 6 and 3, sat down on the grass with their mom, Eliza, pulling out the things they wanted to play with while they got their COVID-19 shots. They would get to choose the exact setting for their shot. When they were ready, they could sit on the lawn, on a chair under the open-air tent or even in their car. Occupational therapists, mental health professionals and special educators were on site to assist. Pain and stress management tools were available, too.

This was not your ordinary vaccination clinic. 

All Brains Belong VT was founded on the premise that people’s brains work differently; therefore, they experience the world differently. “It makes no sense for society to set ‘default’ ways to do things,” the nine-month-old Montpelier-based nonprofit says on its website. “People should have the freedom to choose what works best for their brains.” 

Iris, 6,  and Daphne Vaughan, 3, drove from Colchester with their parents to get Daphne her second vaccination. - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • Iris, 6, and Daphne Vaughan, 3, drove from Colchester with their parents to get Daphne her second vaccination.

With that in mind, All Brains Belong VT offers inclusive primary care family medicine at its Montpelier clinic as well as community programs. 

Its free COVID-19 vaccination clinics — sponsored by the Vermont Department of Health and provided in partnership with Waterbury Ambulance Service — offer primary vaccinations and boosters to anyone eligible for the vaccine. The August clinic, part of a community health education fair, was its third. The next one, also on the Statehouse lawn, is scheduled for Sept. 24.

Community health education fair - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • Community health education fair

“We've had families travel from up to two hours away,” family physician and All Brains Belong VT founder Melissa Houser said via email. “Some kids were on their fourth or fifth attempt, previously being unable to access vaccination because it was too scary and overwhelming. Some of the best moments have been hearing kids say, ‘That was fun!’" 

At age 37, on the two-year anniversary of her child’s autism diagnosis, Houser was diagnosed with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, dyscalculia (impairment of mathematical ability due to an organic condition of the brain) and dyspraxia (impairment of the ability to perform coordinated movements). Celebrating neurodiversity is her nonprofit’s core mission. “There is no one ‘right’ way to be in this world,” she wrote in an email, “And therefore there shouldn’t be one default way of providing health care.”

Dr. Melissa Houser - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • Dr. Melissa Houser
This 7-month-old baby getting his second vaccination. - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • This 7-month-old baby getting his second vaccination.

Her clinic allows patients to create their own health-care experience by offering indoor, outdoor and telehealth visits. 

The nonprofit also offers an array of community events and services. Its brain club is a virtual, weekly education program in which experts teach about the different ways that brains navigate life. Its social connection program matches people who share interests and communication styles with the goal of creating friendships.

Besides serving neurodiverse clients, the vaccination clinics are designed for people who have needle phobia or anxiety about health care. Numbing cream; shot blockers, devices with numerous blunt points that saturate sensory signals so that patients don’t feel the needle; and a vibrating Buzzy bee stand by to soothe pain and anxiety. At the August clinic, Kimberly Krebs, a faculty member at University of Vermont’s occupational therapy program, demonstrated the calming effect of placing the Buzzy bee on a client’s arm. “They can put it where they are getting shot to disperse that sensation … and be in control with the input … whereas they can’t control the needle,” Krebs said.

Bins of sensory tools - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • Bins of sensory tools

Eliza Leeper held the Buzzy bee to Josie’s arm as she got her vaccine. Leeper said that she and her children were pleasantly surprised to find the fidget toys and neuroinclusive approach when they arrived at the August clinic — which provided a much better experience than Josie had getting her first COVID-19 vaccination at the Berlin Mall. That situation, Leeper said, “was quite challenging.” 

Eliza Leeper holds a vibrating Buzzy bee up to her 6-year-old daughter, Josie's, arm to help disperse any pain. - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • Eliza Leeper holds a vibrating Buzzy bee up to her 6-year-old daughter, Josie's, arm to help disperse any pain.

During All Brains Belong’s first vaccination clinic, in January, Houser said, “One parent started bawling with relief after her child received their COVID vaccination. She said that they’d been to four other places and it never felt safe. But this time, her child was grinning ear to ear and asking if he could come back again for more.”

The next All Brains Belong VT vaccination clinic — held in conjunction with the Montpelier Fall Festival — is from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.  September 24 on the Statehouse lawn. Registration is recommended but walk-ins are welcome. To register, visit allbrainsbelong.org/protect-kids.