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Walking your child through a COVID-19 vaccination appointment

Children typically aren’t fond of needles and can pick up on anxiety around COVID-19 vaccination. Read helpful tips from the BC Centre for Disease Control and BC Children’s Hospital.
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​Wondering about the best way to get your child through a COVID-19 vaccination? ​

BC Children’s Infectious Disease Pediatric Physician Dr. Manish Sadarangani says it’s good ​to be open and honest about how vaccination works.

“I think a lot of children, even though they don’t have a true phobia of needles, have some anxiety or some fear about needles,” he told Global News in an interview on Sunday. “There’s a lot that can be done before the appointment. The parent knows their child the best and can talk to their child.”
Encourage your child to ask any questions they may have about the vaccine. It’s important they understand what will happen at the appointment and feel comfortable.

“It’s important they know what’s coming” Dr. Sadarangani says. “Try to be calm and use a supportive, yet matter-of-fact approach.”

Preparing for the appointment

Children age five to 17 can be vaccinated for COVID-19 and should be told about their vaccination appointment close to the actual day of the vaccine. For school-age children, one day before may be appropriate. 

It may have been several years since they last had a vaccine and they may not remember it. If you have already had your COVID-19 vaccine, you can share your experience with them. 

You can say, "You need the vaccine to stay healthy. The medicine will be put in your arm with a needle. You will feel a quick poke."

Their arm may feel heavy or sore for a few hours, but the feeling will go away.

Have young children practise breathing exercises by asking them to breathe deeply, like they are blowing bubbles or blowing out candles.

You can talk about the CARD system - Comfort, Ask, Relax, Distract to help your child find their preferred way to prepare for the vaccine. 

At the appointment
Healthcare providers at immunization clinics are trained to work with children and can help you work with your child to support them. Clinics have various tools to help if your child has a needle phobia.

During the appointment, take your child’s mind off the vaccination. They can use books, listen to music, or play games on their phones or tablets to distract themselves.

“I think it’s important to have distractions for children of all ages,” Dr. Sadarangani says. “Most people will have their cell phone or tablet available to help their child. Deep breathing or calming breathing really helps.”

Have them breathe in deeply for a count of five, and then exhale deeply for a count of five. Repeat the cycle until the vaccination is over. Deep breathing makes the body relax its stress response. It also serves as a distraction.

A team from BC Children’s Hospital has developed a game that helps children practise belly breathing which can help children manage anxiety and their response to pain. You can access this on mobile devices on this link.

If your child has a history of fainting at the sight of needles you can practice this tension technique to reduce the chance of this happening.

“For children, this is a huge effort. Acknowledgment and recognition of that validates everything they have gone through with their vaccination,” he says.

After the appointment

Children 5 to 11 years old

There are some common side effects such as pain, redness and itchiness at the injection site. These will pass quickly. Serious side effects are very rare, but if you notice any health or behaviour changes, call 811 or your healthcare provider.

“After the vaccine, if they have a sore arm or a fever, using acetaminophen or ibuprofen is fine,” Dr. Sadarangani says​.
One very rare side effect that has been seen in mostly in males under 40 is myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle. Most cases were mild and were treated with rest and their symptoms improved quickly. The risk of myocarditis in children who get COVID-19 is greater than the risk following the vaccination.

Symptoms to look out for:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling of a ​rapid or abnormal heart rhythm​
If your child experiences these symptoms, seek medical attention right away. Inform the health care provider that your child received a COVID-19 vaccine recently.

COVID-19 vaccination has no impact on future fertility. There is no biological way for this to occur.

Youth 12 to 17 years old

Youth are expected to experience similar side effects as adults, though may experience some more often, like headaches, chills and fever.​ (Youth and adults receive the same Pfizer vaccine, while children receive a one-third dosage of the same vaccine.) ​The Vaccination Aftercare handout at the clinic provides more information about common side effects and how to manage them.​

Severe allergic reactions are rare and respond well to treatment. Seek medical attention or call 9-1-1 right away, if you have symptoms a severe allergic reaction:

  • Hives 
  • Swelling of the face, tongue or throat
  • Difficulty breathing
More information about vaccination
Feel free to ask the nurse questions about COVID-19 vaccination at your child’s appointment or contact your family doctor, if you have concerns.

Immunize BC is also a great resource for reducing anxiety for vaccinations.

Watch Dr. Sadarangani’s full interview on Global News​.
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