Reducing Vaccination Fear and Pain for Children and Youth

Both children and adults can experience some fear of needles.

  • 33-63 per cent of children experience some fear of needles.
  • 14-38 per cent of adults experience some fear of needles.
  • 5-10 per cent of children and adults experience needle phobia.

(Source: Needle Fear, Why It gets in the way (PDF), Immunize Canada)

Some parents and children delay or stop vaccinations because of pain and fear. This can leave children unprotected from serious disease and may have serious consequences for the child, others in their family, and their community.

There are a number of ways that you can help your child (four years and older) prepare for vaccines:

  • Be honest with your child and explain vaccination using age-appropriate language. Talk to them about:
    • What will happen: “You will get a medicine to keep you healthy. The medicine is called a vaccine and it goes in your arm with a needle.”
    • How it will feel: “There may be a pinch or some pushing for a few seconds.”
    • What you will do to manage discomfort: Say “It bothers some kids, but other kids think it is OK. We are going to do some things to help you so that it is OK for you too”, then discuss what you will do.
    • What your child will do: “You can help by choosing a toy to bring.” Dress child in a top with sleeves that will allow access up to the shoulder area.
  • Use topical pain relief (i.e. numbing creams):
    • These are available at the pharmacy.
    • You must wait the recommended time for them to take effect. This can be anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes depending on the product. Follow the instructions on the package.
  • Have your child sit upright before, during and after the needle:
    • Your child may be held on your lap.
    • Holding your child too tightly or restraining your child may cause distress.
  • Stay with your child, be calm and use your normal speaking voice:
    • Avoid using reassuring statements like “It’ll be over soon” and statements that increase fear like “This is going to hurt”, as they bring attention to the procedure and can increase distress and pain.
  • Use distraction:
    • Use toys, music, talking or videos to distract your child.
    • Start distracting before the needle.
    • There are a few children who cope better by watching the needle, if your child wants to watch this is ok too.
  • Speak to your health care professional as they may have suggestions that will help.

(source: Immunize Canada)

Watch the video below from AboutKidsHealth to learn more about reducing the pain of vaccination in children.

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Last updated: 2021-11-22