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Needle Fear? How to Help Children With the Flu Vaccine

Flu Vaccination

Following the severity of the 2017-2018 flu season, you may wonder what you can do to best protect your child this year. Along with consistent handwashing and staying away from anyone who is sick, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend the flu vaccine for children over six months. But a serious needle fear can make immunization a challenge.

If your child refuses the shot, take a look at what you can do to protect your child.

Talk, but Not Too Much

You don't have any reason to keep the flu shot a secret. If you already know, from past experiences, that your child has a needle fear, talk to them about getting the shot beforehand - especially if they bring up the topic.

While you should answer your child's questions, you don't need to turn the discussion into a major production. Spending days, or weeks, before the vaccination date discussing the shot may make your child more nervous. Constantly discussing the shot may only add to the anxiety.

Consider the Nasal Spray

After poor performance during the 2013-2014 and 2015-2016 flu seasons, the nasal spray version of the vaccine wasn't used for protection in 2017-2018. But this year, according the CDC, the 2018-2019 nasal spray is approved for use in healthy children ages two and up.

Even though the CDC's guidelines allow for the use of the spray, the AAP somewhat differs. While this group of pediatric experts don't explicitly say that the nasal spray is contraindicated, they do provide a caution against its use. Given the past ineffectiveness of the spray, the AAP's recommendations are to use the shot as a first defense against the flu. But they do note that children who are unable or unwilling to have the shot should have the nasal spray.

Ask About an Anesthetic

Different children have different reasons for fearing needles. For some children, the fear comes from past pain. If this is the case with your child, ask the pediatrician if your child can possibly have an anesthetic first. A mild numbing cream or gel can dull the pain, making the shot less uncomfortable for your child.

Not only can this approach help with the flu shot, but creating an almost pain-free vaccination scenario may also make it easier for your child the next time they need an immunization.

Provide Plenty of Distractions

Focusing on the shot as it goes in won't help to reduce your child's stress level. But if their mind is elsewhere, they may not even realize that they've gotten the vaccination. Distraction is an easy answer to your child's vaccination fear issue.

Choose a distraction method that you know will interest your child. Read a book, point to pictures, put on a mini puppet show, sing a song, tell a joke, or try your own creative approach.

Let the Expert Step In

The medical providers, both doctors and nurses, are there to do more than just give the shot. They have expert knowledge on children, their development, and their behavior. Beyond that, they have significant expertise handling this type of situation.

Take a step back and let the expert work their magic. This doesn't mean you have to leave the exam room. Separation from a parent may make only heighten the child's anxiety. Instead, stand back, give the doctor or nurse space to work, let your child know that you're not going anywhere, and let the medical provider do their job.

Does your child need a flu shot? The CDC recommends getting the vaccination before the end of October. If your child needs two doses, the doctor may want to start the series earlier. Contact Physicians & Surgeons Family Medicine & General Practice for more information.