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August is National Immunization Month, and also back-to-school month in many parts of the United States. An appropriate combination, since preparations for starting or returning to school typically include bringing a child’s immunizations up to date. And for the 2022-23 school year, many districts will require current vaccines, especially COVID-19 shots, for admission to in-person learning facilities.
Unfortunately, “getting your shots” can be easier said than done, and not only because of the “I hate needles: they hurt!!!” screaming that even neurotypical preschoolers are notorious for. You may have a child with extreme sensory sensitivity, who reflexively bolts at the slightest tickle. You may dread the prospect of waiting in a vaccination line with ADHD restlessness or a bulky wheelchair. Or you may fear that a vaccine will actually do more harm than good.
Knowledge is power, so here are answers to some of the most common vaccine-related concerns. Hopefully, they will be helpful in getting your children safely immunized against COVID, measles, and other dangerous illnesses.
“My child is ultrasensitive to pain and has a real phobia about shots.”
Not everyone with “needle phobia” is sensitive to pain or sensory stimulation, but the problems definitely feed on each other—and where they hit panic-triggering levels, especially if a child also has mental disabilities, the only option may be administering anesthesia first and the basic medical procedure second. Most children, however, can learn to bear vaccinations with reasonable stoicism. They cope best if the shot is administered by a pediatrician they personally know and trust.
- Check in advance that the doctor’s office has a low-stimulation environment, to minimize additional sources of stress.
- Discuss the procedure with your child in advance, taking time to hear and answer concerns. (A communication app can help if your child has difficulty expressing things verbally.) Don’t, however, assure them that “It won’t hurt.” You can’t really know if it will—especially if your child is extra-sensitive to pain—and if it does wind up hurting, you’ve sown a seed for mistrust and for greater fear surrounding future immunizations.
- Schedule an appointment and arrive at the actual time—not early, or anxiety may build up as your child anticipates the experience while waiting. (Request an appointment first thing in the morning: they’re the least likely to be delayed.)
- Bring something fun or soothing to occupy your child in the waiting room. Better yet, arrange for the doctor’s office to send a message to your phone when they’re ready to take you, so you and the child can wait outside in a less stressful setting.
- Arrange to hold your child for comfort while the shot is administered. But don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by pity or anxiety, even if your “baby” becomes hysterical. If you succumb to powerful negative emotions, the child will either catch them from you, or be tempted to make a bigger scene for your benefit.
“My child has bad reactions to crowds.”
No question, most kids with autism or ADHD—or those with immunocompromising conditions, or even those who hate being stared at for more obvious disabilities—are better off not waiting for their vaccines in a long line or crowded room. Best to schedule a specific time in an individual office, as described above. Before finalizing the appointment time, ask when the office expects to be least crowded (hint: don’t wait for the last minute, hour, or week).
If you can, do the advance paperwork and everything else except the actual vaccine via telehealth. It’ll further minimize your time in public settings.
“I’m afraid the side effects of a vaccine will be worse than the illness itself.”
False rumors have frightened too many parents away from potentially lifesaving vaccines. Let’s be clear upfront:
- Vaccines will not give anyone an active case of the illness the vaccine was formulated to prevent.
- With a very few exceptions (which are easily managed with proper supervision and follow-up), vaccines do not trigger dangerous, let alone deadly, side effects.
- Vaccines do not cause autism. (Perhaps we should add: autism is not worse than blindness, weakened immune systems, severe brain damage, or other lasting effects from many vaccine-preventable illnesses—and it’s about time society stopped regarding autism as the worst fate that could befall a child.)
All the above have been disproven multiple times by careful scientific research. If, however, your child has severe allergies or an immunocompromising condition, it is possible they are among the unlucky few who can’t tolerate standard immunizations. If you suspect this may be the case, consult your pediatrician for advice on the best alternate ways to protect your child.
“My child is not in a high-risk group for serious illness.”
While this is (sadly) not likely to come up if your child has a disability, it’s worth mentioning if you have any chance to educate friends or relatives who are using it as an excuse to put off having their own children vaccinated. Immunizations (and other protective measures such as face masks) are for the sake not only of the person who uses them, but for the safety of anyone he or she might come in contact with. It’s entirely possible to have a virus that causes few or no symptoms, then to pass it on to someone who becomes seriously ill due to a weaker immune system. Having your kids get their shots is basic to being a good citizen.
“My neighborhood has inadequate medical services, and I don’t know where to get my child vaccinated.”
This is a legitimate concern. People from lower-income neighborhoods are considerably less likely to have easy access to medical treatment—which can hurt their educational opportunities as well, if virtual resources are also limited and a school district requires vaccination for in-person attendance.
Don’t give up at the first dead end. There are ample nonprofit and government resources that provide immunization help, from information to transportation. Check with your nearest school, library, or social services office. Your child’s health and education are worth the extra effort.
For More Information
- “Autism and Vaccines.” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- “Building Confidence in COVID-19 Vaccines.” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- “How to Address COVID-19 Vaccine Misinformation.” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- “Needle Fears and Phobia—Find Ways to Manage.” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- “Needle Phobia May Be Contributing to Vaccine Hesitancy More Than We Realize.” (VeryWellMind.com)
- “Vaccinating Children with Disabilities Against COVID-19.” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- “Vaccination as a cause of autism—myths and controversies.” (NIH National Library of Medicine)
- “Vaccines and Autism.” (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia)
- “What Parents Should Know About the Long-Term Effects of the Measles Virus.” (Healthline.com)