By Kendall King
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Health Canada announced the approval of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11 this past Friday.
Later that day, the government of Alberta confirmed it would be receiving the pediatric vaccines as early as Nov. 22.
“We are well prepared to administer doses to children as soon as their parents and guardians are ready to book their appointments,” stated Premier Jason Kenney in a release last week.
The provincial government reports nearly 400,000 children across Alberta are eligible for their vaccine.
Amidst excitement for the rollout, there is also apprehension for some families.
“Sixty per cent of kids in this age group have some fear of needles,” Dr. Katie Birnie told Southern Alberta Newspapers earlier this week.
Birnie, a clinical physiologist, assistant professor at the University of Calgary and associate scientific director of Solutions for Kids in Pain, explained there are steps parents can take to help make the vaccine experience more positive and less stressful for children.
Birnie recommends parents speak with their children about the vaccine prior to administration and notify them of the date they would be receiving their shot, anywhere from a couple days to a week in advance.
“Understanding (the vaccine) helps to some extent,” said Birnie.
“I think it’s really important we’re communicating to kids about it because kids have vivid imaginations; they’ll fill in the blanks, if we’re not giving them some accurate information they may have a lot of misunderstanding about COVID.”
She also recommends parents use simple strategies to help children cope with the vaccination process.
“Things like bringing something that can help distract their minds, either while they’re waiting or when the vaccine is being given, using things like a topical anesthetic – you can get it at a pharmacy, it helps to numb the area – and having a parent present (helps to alleviate fear),” said Birnie.
“Children can often sit on their parent’s lap, almost in a hug, which can help the child to both remain still, but also provide a lot of comfort to them.”
“We know that how we talk about it after the fact can make a really big difference for how it goes next time … so, after a child gets the first (vaccine), focus on what went well … Did they sit still? Were they able to watch a video and distract themselves? Even just that they got it done, let’s celebrate that. That can help reduce stress and reduce any pain for the second dose or for other vaccines in the future … They’re subtle things but they’re very easy to do to make a very big difference.”
Lastly, Birnie recommends parents remain calm and convey confidence about the child’s ability to cope when receiving the vaccine, as this can help sooth the child when they are receiving the vaccine.