As a doctor, Gillette Children’s Associate Medical Director of Pediatrics, Tori Bahr, MD, is proud of the science behind the newly approved COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. As a mother, Bahr is more emotional. “I’m THRILLED!” she exclaims.
Bahr is the busy mother of a soon to be 1-year-old daughter and a soon to be 5-year-old daughter. “My older daughter will turn 5 on November 19th,” Bahr says. “On that day she’ll be getting a special birthday present—a COVID-19 vaccine.”
To prepare for this special birthday event Bahr has worked to prepare her daughter to be calm and confident when she receives the vaccine.
“We’ve spent a lot of time practicing by giving her stuffed animals ‘vaccines,’ Bahr says. She suggests this is a good tip for other parents to try. “When you ‘vaccinate’ one of your child’s special toys you can model a variety of helpful things. For example, you can praise the toy for being brave and for helping to protect the other toys now that they are vaccinated.”
Bahr jokes that as a doctor she wants to advise parents to not use Band-Aids on plush toys. “As a medical professional and parent, I can tell you the Band-Aids don’t come off plush fur! It’s not fun.”
Preparation is key
Preparing your child ahead of a vaccination appointment is the key to helping your child be brave and calm. “You want to talk through what to expect during the appointment,” Bahr suggests. “Parents can be truthful and say, ‘it does hurt a little bit when you get a vaccine but it’s quick and I’ll be right there with you.’ Bringing a comfort item such as a favorite toy or blanket is also helpful.”
One resource parents might not know about is YouTube. “My daughter is really into watching YouTube videos of people getting vaccinated,” Bahr says. “The videos really help to normalize things and she can see how the vaccine is really not as painful as she might fear.”
"Buzzy" can trick your brain
Bahr also recommends parents might want to investigate a relatively new and simple device to help children cope with pain. It’s called “Buzzy” and it’s a personal vibrating ice pack device that acts as a massager and a distraction from the temporary pain of getting vaccinated.
“Buzzy works by tricking your brain into not feeling the poke of a needle as much,” Bahr says. “It works by overstimulating the area by activating sensory receptors. The cold temperature and the vibrations sort of fool the receptors so the focus is not on the needle but on all the other things near the injection site.”
The “Buzzy” is typically shaped like an insect such as a bumble bee or ladybug and runs on batteries. “The idea behind it is similar to what you do when you bump yourself,” Bahr adds. “After you bump yourself your instinct is to rub the area that’s been bumped. There is a good reason for that. That’s because when you rub the area it stimulates different nerves and distracts from the pain.”
Plan a post-vaccine celebration
Like most pediatricians, Bahr is a fan of limiting screen time for children. She playfully suggests “screen time does not count when you’re getting vaccinated.” Just like teens and adults who have received the vaccine, children will have to wait at least 15 minutes in the clinic area after getting a vaccine. “I would tell parents to bring an activity or perhaps a device to be a distraction during the waiting time. A 15 minute wait can seem very long for young children and it’s best to be prepared,” she cautions.
It’s also important to plan a celebration after the vaccination. Bahr says her daughter is looking forward to their ice cream date post-vaccination. She says during their ice cream time she plans to remind her daughter about why vaccines are important and about the responsibility to protect others in the community. They will also talk about how fun it is the be a “science kid” and to remember what exciting things are possible once someone is vaccinated. “Kids in this age group have missed out on being social and it’s nice to talk about how the vaccine means your child can now interact with more people and go to more places,” Bahr says.
Bahr closely identifies with the stress and concern parents have had since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. “Many parents have tried to do everything they can to protect their children from COVID. Now that we have a vaccine it is a relief. Hopefully this means people will be able to expand their social bubble and more children will be able to safely return to school.”
Relief at last
Bahr reminds parents that just like teens and adults, 5-to-11-year-old children will go through a two-step vaccination process. The vaccines should be scheduled three weeks apart. Maximum immune protection will be reached two weeks after the second dose. Parents can expect children to be tired, run a low-grade fever or have some minor tenderness at the injection site. “They might have sore lymph nodes too,” Bahr says.
“That means the vaccine is doing its job," Bahr adds. "Parents can give their child some over-the-counter pain relief like Ibuprofen or Tylenol because there’s no evidence these pain relievers interact with the effectiveness of the COVID vaccine.”
Bahr looks forward to her daughter’s 5th birthday and the post-vaccine ice cream celebration. “I’ll join that group of parents who are relieved their child is vaccinated against COVID. It’s really been a long haul and hopefully things will improve,” Bahr says.
COVID-19 vaccine appointments are available at Gillette
Gillette is offering Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines for existing patients between age 5 and 11 at the Burnsville or Phalen Clinic. Appointments are necessary and parents or caregivers should call 651-290-8707 or schedule an appointment via the patient portal with MyGillette.
Additional vaccine information is available at the Minnesota Department of Health website.