Shots are Nothing to Shy Away from with the Right Approach

Pediatrician Offers Tips to Curb Anxiety from Back-to-School Immunizations

August 28, 2008

"Getting shots may seem burdensome and even downright scary to some children, but they protect children against dangerous and deadly diseases."

Parents have a lot to do to prepare their kids for the new school year. One of the most important things a parent can do is to make sure that their child is in good health standing before returning to school. August is National Immunization Month. This month serves as a reminder that before taking children back, parents need to make sure that their kids have received necessary immunizations.

Immunizations are mandated by each state and must be met before a student can come to school unless qualifying conditions apply. Getting shots may seem burdensome and even downright scary to some children, but they protect children against dangerous and deadly diseases.

Sharon Humiston, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics, published a book in 2000 called Vaccinating Your Child: Questions and Answers for the Concerned Parent. A second edition was published in 2003. In the book, Humiston explains that it can be confusing with all the new vaccines are constantly being introduced and the many vaccines that are universally recommended. Yet on the plus side, Humiston emphasizes, “Because of the success of vaccines, American parents and healthcare providers have less experience than ever before with infectious diseases such as polio and measles.”

In August 2008 in NY State, a 13 year old who had never been vaccinated against measles developed measles disease after travel in Europe. Recent large outbreaks of this highly contagious disease have been reported in Great Britain, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, and Israel. This emphasizes that – even though we like to think serious childhood infectious are just “history” for the developed world, none are more than a plane ride away.

Major childhood vaccinations can protect kids from serious viruses including hepatitis A and B, strep pneumonia, polio, influenza, measles, mumps and rubella, chickenpox, two forms of meningitis, rotavirus, diphtheria and tetanus.

Before children and adolescents receive vaccines, parents should make to have their questions have been answered. As with any procedure, your health care provider is required to explain risks and benefits before giving vaccines. To help parents, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a great website (http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/) and switchboard (for English and Spanish, call 800 -CDC-INFO, for TTY call 888-232-6348). Humiston also recommends bringing in your list of questions written prior to the appointment.

There are many ways for a parent to coach children through these intimidating but critical procedures. Here are some ways to make the vaccination process go more smoothly: 
1. Reassure your child and be honest (for example, “This may sting for about 2 seconds.”).
2. Your child will pick up cues from you. If you are too afraid of needles to be calm and reassuring during vaccination, bring another adult to the appointment.
3. Distract your child before the shot with music or books.
4. Divert your child’s attention during the shot by having them blow bubbles or a pinwheel.
5. Position your child in a way that is comforting and steady. To see good positions for this, see http://www.immunize.org/news.d/comfrten.pdf

After the shot is administered, parents should know what side effects to expect and when to get medical attention. Children may be fussy and have a fever or a red, swollen, tender area after their shot. The fever shows that the child’s immune system is gearing up as it should. This is normal. Acetaminophen (ex. Tylenol) or ibuprofren (ex. Advil) can help make children more comfortable and reduce a fever. About 3 -out-of-100 children have are prone to having a seizure when they have fever; parents should talk to their child’s physician if this is the case.

For more information about immunizations and the diseases they prevent, check out the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/) or National Network for Immunization Information (http://www.immunizationinfo.org/).

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