Rockville, MD, July 9, 2024 – In March of 2023, the Autism Society of America received a multi-million-dollar grant from the USAging’s Aging and Disability Vaccination Collaborative (ADVC), an initiative funded by the US Administration for Community Living. This grant helped expand our highly successful Vaccine Education Initiative (VEI), a public health model that promotes vaccine confidence, education, and access to increase vaccination rates for underserved populations.  As we reflect on the 15-month long grant, we are proud of the impact we’ve achieved and the valuable lessons learned along the way.

By collaborating with nineteen of our affiliates and other third-party partners, we were able to reach the Autism community in 24 states across the country, improving access to the vaccine experience and facilitating 113,000 Covid-19, flu, RSV, and other vaccines.  We connected with millions through diverse outreach, education, and training opportunities. We trained over 6,500 healthcare professionals on accessible models of vaccine administration, including tools that could be used in everyday practice. We distributed close to 38,000 accessible vaccine kits, which were filled with sensory tools, injection tools, accessible communication tools, and rewards for vaccine recipients.  Over 400 new partnerships were developed through this grant, many of which will become long-lasting connections to drive positive change in health equity within the Autism, disability, and aging population for years to come.

Our journey was filled with both triumphs and challenges, each offering valuable insights for future initiatives/programs/projects. This blog shares some key takeaways that could benefit similar efforts in the future.

Informed Decision Making is Key

The Autism Society strives to empower individuals with Autism and their families to make informed decisions in the planning and delivery of individualized, services and support. Each individual and family has the right to choose the services that best meet their individual needs, especially when related to healthcare and vaccination.

Our education and outreach programs throughout the Vaccine Education Initiative were key to helping individuals and families make informed decisions. In addition to measuring outcomes related to the number of vaccines administered, we measured other outcomes related to informed decision-making. When individuals gained a better understanding of their health options, when our community felt heard and respected, when trust was gained between the Autism community and their healthcare providers – these were all successful outcomes as well.

Be Flexible. Learn to Pivot

Flexibility and the ability to adapt our plan to the current reality was an important first lesson. The vaccine rollout in the fall of 2024 faced delays beyond our control, which required us to pivot quickly and adapt our strategies.  While there were planned vaccine events across the country designed to maximize impact during back-to-school events, the shortage of vaccines at that time required us to shift our focus from providing vaccines to learning from our community, fostering relationships, and providing community education. This kept our mission alive, ensuring that individuals and families had access to reliable information for informed decision-making once vaccines became available.

Cultural Differences in Geographic Areas

As a national organization with local roots with over 70 affiliates across the county, we know it is important to understand and respect cultural differences.  Our initiative spanned twenty-four states, each with unique cultural contexts influencing vaccine and health perspectives and behavior. A successful strategy for one of our affiliates in an urban setting may not apply to an affiliate in a rural setting. Tailoring our messages to resonate with local values and addressing specific community concerns helped us connect with diverse populations in a more meaningful way.

Partnerships are Powerful

Collaborating with third-party partners and local affiliate community partners amplified our reach and our impact.  We partnered with rural farmers, multi-cultural community agencies, independent pharmacies, school-based programs, faith-based organizations, mobile vans, local grocery stores, and community centers, enabling us to deliver education and resources more effectively and efficiently.

As a result of this project, we developed creative relationships with so many partners we had never considered working with before, extending the impact of our work. We worked with partners that helped us engage in outreach in creative ways, partners that helped us adapt our physical environment to meet the needs of the Autism community, partners that helped us extend our training programs, and so many more. We are incredibly grateful for the diverse range of external partners that showed genuine interest in partnering with us to increase accessibility to vaccine process for the Autism community.

Anything is possible when we commit to collaboration, coordination, and communication with each other to make health experiences positive for all.” – Mitch Rothholz, RPh, MBA

Stay True to the Mission

Our mission is to create connections, empowering everyone in the Autism community with the resources needed to live fully. And living fully means living safely, with access to equitable healthcare experiences. We faced some setbacks and hurdles but our commitment to improving health equity in the Autism, disability, and aging populations never wavered. This unwavering dedication and commitment kept us motivated and focused, ensuring that we continued to make progress despite the challenges.

We learned the importance of adaptability, cultural sensitivity, strong partnerships, creative outreach, and clear communication as essential components of success. By embracing change and staying true to our mission, we were able to overcome obstacles and make a significant impact on the communities we serve.  These lessons will guide our future efforts and those of others working toward similar goals.

Learn more about our Vaccine Education Initiative Here.

Interested in learning more about how to partner with the Autism Society of America? Contact Danielle Hall, Director, Health Equity at