COVID-19 and caregivers: how to support children through vaccine anxiety

Most children aged between 5-11 are now eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine, and with this, children and parents are reporting vaccine-related anxiety and concerns.


Uncertainty and apprehension about the injection is a common trigger for anxiety in children, which is totally normal. As a parent or caregiver, it is understandable that you may have concerns and want to gather available information before making any decisions. It is important to use trusted sources, as misinformation from unreliable sources such as sensationalist news headlines or social media can encourage unnecessary concern. Primary care doctors and credible health websites are good sources of information, and we have complied these sources below.


Why should my child get the vaccine?

Getting vaccinated is one of the best ways to protect your child from getting COVID-19 and limit the spread of the disease and variants.

I want my child to get the vaccine, but they are worried about the vaccine

It is important that we normalise talking about and asking questions about the virus and the vaccine. Reassure your child about vaccine safety and effectiveness. For example, you can mention New Zealand is using the Pfizer vaccine. That before being provided to the community, vaccines must be approved by Medsafe, who will only approve its use when they are satisfied it’s safe and effective. Medsafe is part of the government’s Ministry of Health which oversees and regulates lots of other medicines they might see at the chemist.

I want my child to get the vaccine, but they have a fear of needles

Having a fear of needles is common. Reassure your child they are not alone in feeling this way.


It may be helpful to focus on the benefits of getting the vaccine to motivate your child to be brave and get it done. If your child feels faint, tell them to tense your muscles or make a fist. They may even ask if they can get the shot lying down.


Remind your child that they don’t need to look at the needle, that will likely increase anxiety, so look away. Distraction can help. Encourage them to listen to a song or watch a video on their phone, practice deep breathing, or tune into their senses – what can you see, hear, smell, touch, or taste?


Most importantly, model staying calm to your child. Children need to feel loved and supported while navigating this uncertainty. Let them know you are there for them and you will support them through this.


Finally, providing a reward for your child is always a great incentive to ‘push through’ a feared situation. Visit their favourite takeout on the way home or have a desired toy ready to hand over.


I’m wondering what it will be like to get the vaccine.

You need 2 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, followed by a booster shot. Vaccinations will be available at a range of locations, including pop-up centres, GPs, Māori and Pacific healthcare providers, mobile clinics and community clinics. The aim is for the vaccine to be easily accessible.


Tell the health practitioner who is administering your shot about your fears beforehand. They may be able to explain the steps, count down, and so on, to give you a greater sense of control.


References and further reading

https://covid19.govt.nz/covid-19-vaccines/

https://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/wellbeing/parenting/300496610/covid19-top-tips-on-how-parents-can-talk-to-their-children-about-the-vaccine

https://www.healthnavigator.org.nz/medicines/c/covid-19-vaccines/

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