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Members voice: Hope and perspective, COVID-19 vaccinations in Austria

Since mid-January 2021, Lebenshilfe Salzburg in Austria have offered vaccinations against COVID-19 for service users and employees. More than 1,200 people have already taken the opportunity, and we can feel the relief throughout the whole organisation.
As one of the first service providers for persons with disabilities, Lebenshilfe Salzburg started to prepare for the vaccination process even though many parameters were still unknown. A project team was set up and relevant information was shared with all colleagues. Service users with learning disabilities were informed through easy to read material and supported in their decision making. Family members and employees had the opportunity to talk with experts about their medical questions via Zoom meetings.
Then things went really fast. We were granted permission to order vaccines for prioritised groups! The amounts were limited but we got enough vaccines for about 800 people working and living in residential facilities. Internal teams of doctors, nurses and assistants travelled throughout the region deploying vaccines at 25 different locations. Service users and staff were eager to get their shots after having gone through hard times with restrictions and cases of illness in several facilities. It was a pleasure to see how everyone worked together to make it possible.
Behind the scenes of course it was exhausting as well, conditions and rules constantly changed from one minute to the next. New medical information, a change of responsible authorities, another form of documentation required, a different ordering process set up, and so on. Answers had to be found quickly for so many challenges: Is the technical equipment working well? Will we receive all the doses of vaccine we ordered? Will everybody bring the necessary documents including the declaration of consent? How do we deal with last-minute cancellations? Which side effects will occur? …
We had to stay flexible, but everything worked out fine. Nevertheless, there were still about 400 people waiting for their turn. Due to the limited quantity of vaccines available in our country, we had no access to further doses for about two months. By now the setting has changed: service users and employees are able to use public vaccination sites operated by the Red Cross. Experience shows that it works well to attend them as groups or individuals.
The deployment of vaccines contributed to generate feelings of hope and perspective among all stakeholders. It is about time to look forward and catch up on what we missed, as far as regulations allow.

Petra Meeraus
Lebenshilfe Salzburg, Austria

Members' voice is an open space for EASPD member organisations to publish their opinion articles on our newsletter. This article does not necessarily reflect the official position of EASPD.