Going to the doctor can be scary, especially when needles are involved.
A child’s fear of the pain that comes with getting shots can prevent some families from getting the medication they need, Dr. Brandon Greene said. When a parent is scared or remembers shots as painful, that can also lead them to not bring in their kids when they should.
Greene is implementing practices at Island Hospital that help patients feel better about the vaccines they are getting and reduce the fear and pain that come with them.
“Pain is not required,” he said.
When pain goes away, so does fear, which increases participation in getting vaccines.
When it comes to adults, some doctors use a Lidocaine cream or local anesthetic to help numb the area where the adult will be receiving the shot. The cream does take about a half hour to take effect, though, so it requires some planning.
There are other methods available for younger patients that help distract them from the shot itself and take the pain away.
For babies younger than 6 months, the suckling mechanism can help distract the brain from the shot. That means babies who can breast feed or use a pacifier during the shot will experience less pain than those who aren’t.
Another option is sugar water. Giving a baby a little bit of sugar water offers pain relief in the way an opiate may do for an adult. It only lasts a few minutes, but it’s enough to ease pain, Greene said.
It works remarkably well, Greene said.
For older kids, it’s all about the distraction.
Distracting kids from the shot will make them feel less pain. That could mean blowing on a pinwheel and watching it spin, or using a kazoo or other noise maker.
There are also devices now that help distract kids from the shot. Buzzy, shaped like a bee or ladybug, vibrates against a child’s arm. That combined with a cold compress can help overload the child’s senses in a way that reduces the pain.
For teenagers, there are even more options.
Teens can listen to their headphones if they want to listen to music or they can even dive into the world of virtual reality.
Greene’s office has a few virtual reality goggles for teens to use so they can immerse themselves in another world to distract themselves from the shot.
Greene said there are so many options that he works hard to find one that fits. If a parent or child is showing anxiety, he discusses the options.
“We want the visit to be more pleasant,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sets an immunization schedule for children from birth up to age 18. Shots are administered at birth and then at months 2, 4, 6 and 12. After that, they are less frequent, but more vaccinations are required as the child is exposed to more other kids.
Some are required at 4 years, as children prepare for kindergarten, for example, and then at 11 years when they are set to enter middle school, Greene said.
Greene said people should understand the need for vaccines, and when gathering information about them should pay attention to the source of what they’re reading to determine if it is factual.
“You have to look at the motivation behind the information,” Greene said. “That will help you make better decisions for your children.”
Dr. Les Richards, also with pediatrics at Island Hospital, wrote an article for Heartbeats, the hospital magazine, in 2017 about vaccines.
In the article, he recalls what it was like to get a polio vaccine decades ago. He also talks about what it was like to see a child suffering from Haemophilus meningitis, a disease he hasn’t seen in any children since the vaccine for it was introduced more than 30 years ago.
“The scientific data is overwhelming – vaccines work,” he wrote. “They are not 100 percent effective, but they are by far the best way we have to control severe infectious illnesses.”