Your kids anxious over getting a COVID-19 shot? What local doctors advise to say and do

  • Maya Huber takes part in Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine study at Rutgers University on June 14 in New Brunswick, N.J.

    Maya Huber takes part in Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine study at Rutgers University on June 14 in New Brunswick, N.J. Nisha Gandhi via AP

Updated 11/2/2021 6:10 AM

As authorization of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 looms ahead of Tuesday's regulatory meeting, doctors are offering suggestions on how parents can quell any anxiety youngsters might have about getting the dreaded "shots."

"Give them the facts," said Dr. Whitney Lyn, a family medicine physician at Cook County Health. "They already know what's going on in the world today, so emphasize that it's going to keep them safe and those around them safe as well."


Some children who will soon be eligible for the vaccine have been living one-third of their lives in the pandemic.

"We underestimate our children a lot," Lyn said. "Explain to them all the things we can do again if we all get vaccinated so we can all be safe to be around each other."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is slated to meet Tuesday to vote on the use of the Pfizer vaccine for ages 5 to 11. After approval, the shot will be available immediately.

Parents shouldn't be above offering incentives for visits to the doctor, pharmacy or health clinic for the two vaccines doses, experts say.

"Let them have a treat," Lyn said. "Every parent knows what works to get their child motivated to do something, and usually all kids respond to a treat."

Medical experts also urge parents to talk with their children about any fears they might have about the needles. Dismissing a child's concerns by saying "it's no big deal" or "don't worry" might lead to more anxiety, according to doctors at the American Academy of Pediatrics. They also advise parents not to apologize to children for getting them vaccinated because "taking care of your child's health is not wrong."

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Distractions are a good tactic, such as letting children watch something on a phone or tablet, or singing a song together.

"The more relaxed they are, the less it's going to hurt, because when you cringe your muscles tighten, and that's what can cause the pain from shots," Lyn said. "But the needles aren't as big as they used to be, either, which also helps with the pain."

Many doctors recommend numbing the area beforehand with ice or over-the-counter local anesthetics like lidocaine spray or ointment. Some pediatricians even suggest using something that applies vibration on the skin above the area where the shot will go to "create a traffic jam in the nervous system."

The American Academy of Pediatrics believes most parents will have to deal with their child's anxiety over the vaccinations as research shows about two-thirds of children have a fear of needles.

Ultimately, Lyn said parents should also use more positive and encouraging words about the process. Instead of "shot," say "medicine" or "vaccination." Other doctors suggest using "pinch" or "poke."

"We all just want our kids to be kids again," Lyn said. "I know I want my kid to be a kid. The vaccine is safe and effective, so it only hurts them the more they are in the house away from friends and others."

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