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Kids' vaccination clinics aim to ease children's worries about shots

Specially trained staff, distraction tools and lots of patience help families get comfortable with COVID-19 vaccines

Inside the North Vancouver COVID-19 vaccination clinic run out of the former ICBC claim centre on Lloyd Avenue, there are colourful decorations up on the walls. On Valentine’s Day last week, pink and red hearts and paper chains added a welcoming touch. Bubble makers are among the tools within easy reach on the nurses’ tables.

At 3:30 p.m. on a school day, there are a steady stream of parents and children walking in the door, who’ve come to get their COVID-19 vaccinations.

Katie Kenny and her children Liam, nine, and Evelyn, six, are among them.

Liam admits he was a little concerned about getting his second shot, but it was over in seconds, with high-fives all around. His sister Evelyn has brought her stuffed rainbow unicorn along for comfort and eventually opts to get her shot while sitting on her mom’s lap and getting a hug, facing away from the nurse.

Kenny, a teacher, said she knows some parents have taken a wait-and-see approach to vaccinating their children, but adds she sees it as “imperative” for everyone.

On the day her kids got their shots, her daughter spotted some classmates from school who were leaving the vaccination clinic. “They’re smiling and happy, which does help,” she said.

Staff who work at the kids’ vaccination clinic have made a special effort to keep it that way.

North Shore kids vax rates lead the province

While vaccination rates are high for adults in most areas of the province, rates for children, who became eligible for vaccinations in December, have lagged behind.

The good news is the North Shore has one of the highest rates of kids’ vaccination in the province. Between 69 and 77 per cent of five- to 11-year-olds in West Vancouver and North Vancouver have received one shot and 31 to 39 per cent have received two doses. That’s well above rates for children in many parts of the Interior and Fraser Health.

The kids’ vaccination clinic, set up within the regular clinic in North Vancouver, has provided just under 15,000 children’s vaccinations since Nov. 29, and is aiming to continue that trend.

(Similar clinics are also available in Vancouver at the George Pearson clinic and in Richmond at the Pacific Autism Family Network.)

Those working at the clinic have experience and training in working with kids and calming their anxieties, said Karen Chow, clinical operations supervisor at the clinic. There are also private rooms where kids can get away from the hubbub of the larger space if they need, and take their time. “We don't make them feel like it’s a rush,” said Chow.

Tenth time's the charm

For some kids with genuine phobias, it’s a gradual process. One teen came back to the clinic 10 times before he was able to get the shot. “On the tenth time, he finally did it,” said Chow.

Patty Hearn, a retired registered nurse who works at the kids’ clinic, said there are a wide variety of kids’ reactions to getting their shots.

“Some of them just sit down, pull up their sleeves, and they're good to go. And some of them are really, really, really scared and afraid of needles,” she said.

Hearn said when kids are ready, she likes to give them their vaccination quickly and deal with paperwork after with parents. “I don’t make (kids) sit there,” getting anxious, she said.

Among those who Hearn was vaccinating recently were sisters Isa Pagtakhan, 14, Aia, 12 and Andrea, nine. Aia and Andrea came for their second shots while Isa came for her booster.

Isa said one of the reasons she’s happy to get her shot is she’s hoping it will help get life back to normal faster. Seeing her classmates without masks in school and having parents relaxed about sleepovers with friends are among the things she’s looking forward to, she said.

“I want this to be over as soon as it can be.”

While appointments at the clinic are recommended (and necessary for booster shots) families are also welcome to drop in for first and second shots for children’s vaccinations. Clinic days and hours are posted on the VCH vaccination site and generally include both evening and weekend time slots.

Kids vaccination3
Six-year-old Evelyn gets a hug from mom Katie Kenny and nurse Patty Hearn after getting a shot at the kid's vaccination clinic at the Lloyd Avenue clinic in North Vancouver, on Monday (Feb. 14). |  Mike Wakefield, North Shore News