Before children are 2 years old, most are immunized against 14 vaccine-preventable diseases, including measles, chickenpox and whooping cough.
"It’s one of the most important things parents can do to protect their children’s health and the health of the community," said Susan Buckley, Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) public health director.
However, getting an injection can be frightening, she said, especially for young children who don’t fully understand what’s going on. Using a few simple techniques from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and staff at DHHS’ Public Health Clinic in Eureka, parents can make getting immunization shots less stressful for their infants, toddlers, older children and even their teenagers.
There are several ways to soothe a baby during and after a shot, according to the CDPH. Try talking to the child in a calming tone, singing a favorite song or cuddling him or her closely. Breastfeeding is another good way to comfort a little one who has just had an injection.
By the time kids reach the toddler and preschool years, they are usually aware that doctor visits might include a shot. To help ease young children’s fears, give them the opportunity to ask questions and express concerns before heading to the appointment. The CDC recommends reassuring children with honesty.
"Answer in simple terms," said Susan Wardrip, a registered nurse and the DHHS Public Health Clinic immunization coordinator. "You might say, ‘Yes the shot will pinch or sting, but it will only last a few seconds and you’ll feel better.’ Do not over-explain or dwell on the topic. Also, don’t belittle their fears or tears about getting a shot. Smile, encourage and then praise, praise, praise."
With young children, the CDC says it’s also helpful to bring along a favorite toy or blanket for the child to hold, tell the child a story, recite the ABCs together or encourage the child to take several deep breaths and slowly "blow out the pain."
For school-age kids, it is okay to be truthful and talk to them about why they need to get shots, according to the CDC. One suggestion is to tell them the medicine from the shots is helping their bodies fight all kinds of diseases.
"They’re proud of growing up and going to school," said Carol Newman, a registered nurse with Public Health’s immunization clinic. "Stress the positive of how big they are, how they are going to meet new friends, how much fun school will be and that immunizations are just a part of starting school."
It’s important to remember that vaccines aren’t just for babies and young children, Newman said. Many youth between the ages of 11 and 19 may think they are done with their vaccinations, but they aren’t. According to the CDC, as children get older, the protection provided by some of the shots given during childhood can begin to wear off. Children can also develop risks for certain infections as they enter the preteen and teen years.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends preteens and teens get vaccinations to prevent diseases like whooping cough, tetanus, diphtheria, meningitis, influenza and human papillomavirus. Some may also need vaccines against hepatitis A and B, chickenpox, mumps, measles, rubella, polio or other conditions.
"Teens are often the most surprised to find that they are frightened by the idea of a shot," Wardrip said. "They need to know that they are not too old to feel scared and that it’s okay to ask for comfort. Peers are a huge part of their world. Texting, updating their Facebook status or listening to music are all strategies that can help keep the teen comfortable when they’re receiving a shot."
The Public Health Clinic offers a variety of services, including childhood, adult and travel immunizations, which are given by registered nurses with years of experience working with families, said Mary McKenzie, Public Health nursing supervisor for clinic operations and communicable disease surveillance.
"They can answer any vaccine questions that parents may have," McKenzie said.
The Public Health Clinic is located at 529 I St. in Eureka. For more information, call the clinic at (707) 268-2108.