Published on November 03, 2021

Essentia Health child life specialists share tips for vaccinating 5-11-year-olds

Many Essentia locations ready to begin vaccinating children immediately

Following unanimous approval from its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday evening officially authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for 5-11-year-olds. Children are now eligible to be immunized against the coronavirus, another important step in ending a pandemic that has lasted nearly two years.

At Essentia Health, we’ve been preparing in earnest to vaccinate this age group as quickly and conveniently as possible. Appointments are required for 5-11-year-olds and can be made with the child’s primary care provider or pediatrician. Patients can schedule through our MyChart patient portal. or by calling (833) 494-0836. Please note that appointment availability will vary by location as vaccine is allotted and distributed; check MyChart frequently for openings.

The vaccine has been proven safe and effective for children. It is a lower dose (10 micrograms) than that used for individuals ages 12 and older (30 micrograms). 

Anyone under the age of 18 must bring this consent form, signed by a parent or guardian.

“Our children have had nearly two school years disrupted by COVID-19, not to mention some children being seriously ill — and even dying — from the virus,” said Dr. Jonathan KenKnight, a pediatrician at Essentia. “With safe and effective vaccines now available for this age group, we are another step closer to ending the pandemic. We at Essentia Health encourage vaccinating your children to keep them healthy and safe so that they can continue in school and other activities.”

While we’re excited about this next step in slowing the spread of COVID-19, we also recognize that vaccinating youngsters presents challenges. Accordingly, Essentia Health child life specialists lend their expertise to help families make vaccination a comfortable experience. They offer the following tips:

  • Be honest and use developmentally appropriate language when explaining shots to your child — saying “poke” vs. “shot” or “vaccine”; “getting medicine in your leg through a poke” vs. a shot or vaccine; and “it may feel like a small pinch” or “the medicine may feel warm” vs. “it will burn.”
  • Play! For our younger children, playing with medical/doctor toys helps them process experiences, but also helps desensitize and familiarize them with different tools they may see during their clinic appointments.
  • Talk about getting vaccines and come up with a plan at home to help prepare.
  • Validate your child’s feelings/emotions regarding getting vaccines or previous experiences. Some kids are nervous and/or scared, and that’s OK. It helps us to know we should be developing a plan and preparing ahead of time.
  • Give appropriate choices to allow them some control in the situation — for example, ask if they would like to watch or play a game on mom’s phone; if they want to blow bubbles; or maybe whether they would like to sit on dad’s lap or by themselves.
  • If your child is anxious, practice some breathing exercises at home or pick a favorite distraction tool and/or comfort item to bring that can be used to help support you.
  • Talk to your child’s medical provider and develop a plan. Is there an option to have a child life specialist present for distraction and support? Is “Buzzy” available for pain management? Buzzy resembles a bee and is used to numb an area of skin prior to injection via cold temps and vibration, confusing the nerves so that when the site is ready for a needle, the patient hardly feels it.
  • Distraction tools include an iPad, smartphone, music, favorite toys, light-up spinner, and more. Comfort items, such as a favorite blanket or stuffed animal, also are effective.

“We always encourage parents to be honest and patient with your child when it comes to getting vaccines, and talk about going to the doctor more often,” said Michelle Finneman, a child life specialist at Essentia. “Children are smart; they feed off their caregiver’s energy. So if we can begin early on to talk positively, using honest language with our children about going to the doctor and discussing the importance of vaccines with them, as well as meeting their individual needs, it will make for a more positive experience now and for future clinic appointments or hospital stays.”

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