Dr Jared Bullard, Children’s Hospital Pediatrician & Dad

Dr. Jared Bullard, Pediatrician, Children’s Hospital and son

Now that Health Canada has approved the COVID-19 vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11, my own child Donovan, who just turned 11, finally received his first dose! Donovan, like a lot of kids I see, is scared of needles. Unlike other routine vaccines, Donovan has seen his sister, his aunts and uncles, grandparents and parents get vaccinated. So, in this case, he sees the vaccine as an opportunity to take his turn and do his part.

What to Expect

I assured Donovan that with the COVID-19 vaccine, he would probably feel a pinch or a squeeze with the needle but that overall this vaccine is not too bad compared with other vaccines. Some kids actually ask “You’re done?” or “You did it already?” because they really didn’t feel the pinch of the needle. Parents who got the COVID vaccine themselves will know from experience that the needle itself isn’t very painful. While this can be reassuring, it likely won’t entirely diminish a child’s anxiety.

Prepare Ahead of Time

Parents know their child best, but in general I suggest you give your child a day or two notice ahead of the vaccine appointment. Talk with them about what the vaccine is for and let them ask you questions. Also, prepare ahead of time and be ready to distract your child while the vaccine is being administered, often pediatricians will ask your child questions to take their attention elsewhere, but parents know best what works for their kid. If a video game on your phone is effective, do what works! If you plan to make the day special with a special treat or activity, talk about that during the appointment to take their attention away from whatever is worrying them.

Ask For Help

If a child is especially anxious about needle pain, your pediatrician or family doctor can prescribe a numbing cream which is applied to the upper arm at the injection site half an hour or so before the appointment. This can be psychologically reassuring for children, knowing there is a plan to reduce discomfort.

Side Effects

The vaccine is safe. Based on studies done, we’re seeing that the side effects like fever and headaches are less likely for children, while redness at the injection site is more likely. You’ll still want to plan low key activities following your appointment.

For the Hesitant Parent

We know that many parents are eager to get their children protected from COVID, while others have a wait and see approach. All parents want what is best for their children, and if you have questions, make sure to talk to your pediatrician or doctor who can help you assess the risk. If your child has other medical conditions that lower their immunity, if they have neurological differences, or are obese, the chances are greater that catching COVID would result in more severe disease symptoms.

Canada has the benefit of seeing real world examples of the vaccine’s effectiveness in children. Over a million children ages 5 to 11 in the United States have already been vaccinated. In Canada, we’ve had over 2 million children aged 12 to 17 who have been immunized to COVID as well. There are some important, although rare, safety concerns for 12-17 year olds, such as myocarditis. So far, the evidence is showing that those symptoms are mild and resolve fully. I would encourage those who want to wait, that they create a criteria for themselves, whether it’s a time frame, or by number of children who have been vaccinated, and commit to revisiting their concerns with their doctor.

I would encourage those who want to wait, to create a criteria for themselves, whether it’s a time frame, or by number of children who have been vaccinated, and commit to revisiting their concerns with their doctor.

Plan Your Appointment

We’re so fortunate now to be able to get the COVID vaccine in a variety of places including doctors offices, pharmacies, clinics and schools. In talking with Donovan, I asked him what he’s most looking forward to once he is fully vaccinated. He says he wants to be able to visit restaurants with his friends, and get back to playing hockey! I imagine all of our kids are waiting to get back to more normal routines. I encourage parents to book their appointment as soon as they can.

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Additional Resources

Learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine from official sources.