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ASHA Calls on State Governors to Give Audiologists and Speech-Language Pathologists Priority Access to Approved COVID-19 Vaccines

Front Line Clinicians Work in Healthcare and School Settings, Bear Particular Risk Due to Services They Provide to Patients and Clients

December 11, 2020

(Rockville, MD)

As the nation’s governors develop their plans for how COVID-19 vaccines will be distributed in their states, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) urges that audiologists and speech-language pathologists (SLPs) be given priority access to the initial distribution of vaccines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

While some of these clinicians likely will be included in initial distribution due to their employment settings, such as those working in hospitals and long-term care facilities, many whom are currently providing in-person services may not be covered in this first priority group. This is especially problematic given the nature of the disorders that audiologists and SLPs diagnose and treat, which often require direct contact with patients—as well as the unique needs of their patient populations, which can make mask use difficult. Taken together, these factors put audiologists and SLPs at heightened risk of contracting COVID-19.

As professionals who identify and treat hearing, balance, and other auditory disorders, audiologists must come in close contact with clients in order to effectively examine and treat their condition. This puts them at increased risk of COVID-19 transmission. Deaf or hard of hearing individuals who use lipreading to communicate, as well as audiologists and SLPs who treat them, need clear masks that are not always available.

SLPs assess and treat speech, language, social communication, cognitive-communication, and swallowing disorders—and provide essential communication services that address a variety of disabilities. Many individuals with communication disabilities are unable to wear a mask for sensory, physical, or other reasons. Others may need to remove their mask during assessment or therapy tasks. While the utilization of clear facial masks is advantageous for some clinicians, this type of personal protective equipment (PPE) is neither readily available in some cases nor appropriate for clients in all settings—particularly during speech therapy interventions. 

“Audiologists and SLPs recognize that effective communication is a human right—essential for human interaction—and are willing to put themselves in harm’s way every day to ensure that individuals with communication disorders receive the treatment they need and deserve,” ASHA President Theresa H. Rodgers, MA, CCC-SLP, wrote in a letter being sent to the nation’s governors [PDF].

“ASHA members know that hearing loss, speech, language, cognitive, and swallowing disorders can have lasting impacts on the health, welfare, and safety of individuals throughout their lives.”

While some providers have been able to adapt their service delivery by conducting assessments and treatments remotely via telepractice, there are circumstances where this is not an option. Some audiologists and SLPs continue providing services for those with communication disorders in person despite the lack of adequate PPE—making priority access to the vaccine a necessity.

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About the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)

ASHA is the national professional, scientific, and credentialing association for 211,000 members and affiliates who are audiologists; speech-language pathologists; speech, language, and hearing scientists; audiology and speech-language pathology support personnel; and students. Audiologists specialize in preventing and assessing hearing and balance disorders as well as providing audiologic treatment, including hearing aids. Speech-language pathologists identify, assess, and treat speech and language problems, including swallowing disorders.

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