Editor’s note: This article originally ran Nov. 7, 2021, and was updated to reflect public health guidance.
More than two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus continues to disrupt the lives of children and families. Thankfully, there are now vaccines available for children 6 months of age and older that protect them against serious illness and reduce the risk of missed school, activities and fun.
Elementary school-aged children (ages 5 to 11) receive a different dose than younger children (ages 6 months to 4), but the shot works the same way in everyone: It teaches the immune system how to recognize and fight the coronavirus when it encounters it in the future.
Here are four ways to prepare your child for the initial vaccine or a booster shot.
1. Plan around important events.
When it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine, timing is important. While many people have no side effects, or just a sore arm, it’s not unusual to experience fever, chills and fatigue for a day or two after getting the vaccine, especially the second dose. For that reason, you’ll want to avoid scheduling a vaccine appointment the day before a big test, dance recital, travel, or even an important sporting event, just in case.
But don’t delay for long—getting the COVID-19 virus can keep you away from important events for much longer.
2. Be sensitive to any anxiety your child might have.
If your child has a fear of shots, don’t tell him or her about the upcoming shot too far in advance.
“Sometimes it’s worse to prepare because they’re thinking about it until it actually happens, and it just builds and builds and builds,” says UNC Health pediatrician Edward M. Pickens, MD. “If you have a child who is especially worried, what you’re really doing is setting them up for several days of worry.”
Instead, wait for the day of the shot to explain why they need it. You can say it will keep them, their friends and their loved ones safe.
“Explain the importance of why they’re receiving the vaccine,” says Stephanie Duggins Davis, MD, physician-in-chief at UNC Children’s and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the UNC School of Medicine. “They’re going to have just a very brief amount of pain compared to having to quarantine for several days if they acquire the virus, or they may become symptomatic.”
3. Plan ahead if your child has a history of fainting.
Let the person who is giving your child’s shot know if he or she has a history of fainting with needles.
If your child has a history of fainting with needles or a fear of shots, the CDC recommends doing the following:
- Have a beverage or snack before getting the vaccine.
- Breathe slowly and deeply before getting the vaccine and think of something relaxing.
- Sit or lie down after receiving the vaccine.
4. Talk to your child’s doctor if you have concerns about the vaccine.
Don’t be afraid to ask your child’s doctor anything about the vaccine; it’s normal to have questions, and the doctor should take time to discuss all of your concerns.
Count on a trusted pediatrician, not what you hear online or from friends, Dr. Pickens says.
“If you have questions about side effects or long-term manifestations of the vaccine, talk about them with your doctor, because you don’t want social media to be your source of information,” he says. “It really doesn’t take much for completely false information to make the rounds, and next thing you know, it’s perceived to be true.”