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Talking to Kids About the COVID-19 Vaccines

Aug 12, 2021 By Hela Barhoush
Mother talking to daughter on couch

By now, you’re probably well-versed in talking to your kids about how to stay healthy amid the pandemic. From demonstrating effective hand washing to explaining why and how to wear a mask, COVID-19 talk has become second nature in most family homes. Fortunately, a year and a half into the pandemic, we now have an added layer of protection — the most protective one yet: the COVID-19 vaccine.

The CDC has recommended that all individuals 12 years and older be vaccinated against COVID-19, in order to protect themselves and others, as well as to limit the spread of COVID-19. Currently, kids 12 years and up are eligible to receive the Pfizer mRNA COVID-19 vaccine — the only COVID-19 vaccine authorized for children under 18 at this time. As clinical trials continue to investigate the use of vaccines in kids as young as 6 months of age, scientists are hopeful that the vaccine could become available to younger children in the next year.

It’s a great time to start talking to your kids about the vaccine so they feel prepared and empowered to get vaccinated once it becomes available to them. Here are some ways to effectively communicate with your kids about the COVID-19 vaccines.

Start with what they know

Ask your child what they already know about the COVID-19 vaccine. You’d be surprised at how much information children pick up from adult conversations, media sources and their peers. This will give you a good starting point and also allow your child the opportunity to express any concerns, fears or questions they may have related to the vaccine that you can then address.

Offer reassurance

Concerns should first be validated by letting your child know that it is okay to have these feelings. It can help to remind your child of a previous time they felt nervous that had a positive outcome. Reassure your child by providing age appropriate education about how vaccines work and the reasons behind using them.

Use kid-friendly comparisons

It’s helpful to use age appropriate relatable analogies to explain how vaccines work to kids. You can start with some basic information about the human body. “Each of our bodies have an immune system whose job is to fight off germs (which you can define as viruses or bacteria to an older child) so we don’t get sick from them. When our immune system sees a germ they make antibodies which act like soldiers to fight off the germs so we don’t get sick. A vaccine works by teaching our immune system to make soldiers to fight off one specific germ (virus or bacteria) so that if our bodies come into contact with that germ in the future the soldiers are already there and ready to fight it off so we don’t get sick from it.”

Providing a point of comparison can offer familiarity which can be comforting to kids. For example, you can explain that the act of getting the COVID-19 vaccine is similar to getting the flu vaccine, or the most recent shot that your child has received and remembers. “It will feel like a very quick pinch in the arm/leg and you’ll be able to hold mommy/daddy’s hand during it and then it will be over.”

Explain their importance

Older kids will benefit from understanding the reasons behind getting the vaccine. You can describe the vaccine as a tool to keep ourselves and loved ones safe and healthy, similar to wearing a mask and washing hands. Also, explaining that getting the vaccine will allow us to more safely do the activities that we love and be closer to our loved ones, like grandparents, can help children feel excited to get vaccinated.

Talk positively about the vaccines

Children are quick to be impacted by the emotions and anxieties of the adults around them. Therefore, it is important to speak with confidence and enthusiasm about the topic. Your kids may also be comforted hearing about your own personal experience getting the COVID-19 vaccine, as someone they look up to and want to emulate.

Be available

Lastly, keep an open line of communication with your kids and bring the topic up periodically. As we know too well, the information around us is constantly evolving, so be prepared to address any questions or concerns that may arise over time. They’ll also feel reassured knowing you’re available when they need you.

Have questions about the COVID-19 vaccines and your child’s health? Book an appointment today.

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Hela Barhoush, One Medical Provider
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The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Orange County,Phoenix, Portland, San Diego, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

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