Is the sight of a syringe stopping your child from getting vaccinated?
Some coping tips from an expert on how parents can help take the shock out of shots.
The good news is that a vaccine has finally been developed and approved to protect children ages 5 to 11 from COVID-19. In fact, the New Jersey Health Department has issued guidelines for this age group. The bad news: For many of these same children, the thought of getting a shot in the arm may be so upsetting, it can actually make them sick.
Approximately 40% of children have some level of fear or anxiety related to immunizations. When the anxiety is extreme, children can experience nausea, sweats and panic attacks—physiological responses that they can’t control. This condition, called Trypanophobia, affects 10% of children and can often last into adulthood. Because it can trigger a severe physical or emotional response, it often prevents patients from seeking the medical care they need—including COVID-19 vaccinations.
According to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 24% of 5-to-11-year-olds and 57% of 12-to-17-year-olds have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 – making them the two lowest vaccinated age groups. As health officials encourage greater uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine, there are several things parents can do to ease the minds of children whose fear of needles makes them among the vaccine-hesitant.
“Some level of needle fear is to be expected in many kids,” says Jeffrey S. Aronowitz, D.O., MBA Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist and Medical Director at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey. “But with everything that’s going on in the world related to the pandemic, and the heightened focus on COVID-19 vaccinations, it’s no surprise that we are seeing it occur much more often.”
For most children and adults, the problem never progresses past the hesitancy or anxiety stages. But for the times when parents need to help their children overcome a needle fear, Dr. Aronowitz offer some helpful advice:
Talk about it.
Calmly and directly talk to your child about why the shot is necessary. Walk them through the process, simply, and encourage them to ask questions. They’ll more likely see the experience as normal or routine if you describe it that way.
Be a role model.
If you’re due for a COVID-19 vaccination or booster, or any other type of arm-based shot, take your child with you and let them see it’s no big deal.
Take it easy.
Do everything you can think of to make the experience easy for your child. Dress them in a loose-fitting shirt that will be easy to navigate when it’s go-time. Go to a pediatrician – who is accustomed to kids’ fear of needles – rather than a large, noisy vaccination cattle call.
Try to choose where and by whom the shot is administered and provide hands-on support throughout the process. Bring a toy, a stuffed animal, a snack, juice box or anything your child turns to for comfort. If possible, take a piece of ice and place it over the arm before the shot, to ease any potential pain.
Offer your lap for young children.
If the shot-giver doesn’t mind, encourage your young child to sit on your lap during the procedure. Says Dr. Aronowitz, “Children feel most vulnerable while lying on their backs. Allowing them to sit upright, possibly on your lap, can really help give them the most comfort."
Words of affirmation – “you can do this!” – can embolden them. It may help to describe the shot to younger children as providing them with “superpowers” possessed by one of their favorite superheroes. If you have teens, try to meet them where they are and balance their need for independence and support.
Dr. Aronowitz also encourages parents to read one of the numerous children’s books about going to the doctor or getting a shot. Roleplay can work, too, by having you or your child pretend to give a toy animal a shot sometime before the child’s shot takes place.
If you have questions or are seeking more information about needle fear, speak with your pediatrician to learn more about preparing for shots.
Horizon Health News is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.