Vaccines for children: What to expect at the vaccination appointment

Feeling anxious about your child's vaccination visit is common and understandable. Knowing what to expect can help ease your worries and make it a positive experience for you and your child.

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Before the vaccination

Consult with your health care provider or public health authority to determine when you should book an appointment. You also need to know the measures put in place to safely deliver vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Contact your provincial or territorial public health authority

Vaccination records

Keep your child's vaccination record in a safe place so you can find it when needed. From time to time, you may be asked to provide proof of your child's vaccinations.

Before starting school or daycare, it may be necessary to provide your child's up-to-date vaccination record. Also, having this record is helpful if you need to take your child to another health care provider.

If your child's sick or has a fever when it's time for their vaccination, talk to your health care provider. They will let you know if it's okay to go ahead with the vaccination or if it will need to be rescheduled.

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Checklist for your child's vaccination visit

  1. Make an appointment with your health care provider or local public health authority.
  2. Bring your child's vaccination record to the appointment.
    • If your child doesn't have a vaccination record yet, your health care provider will give you one.
  3. Book the next vaccination appointment before you leave your health care provider's office.
  4. Mark the next appointment in your calendar to help you remember.

Make a plan for reducing fear of and pain from needles

Tell your child about vaccination using age-appropriate language. Tell them what will happen and how it will feel. Try using words such as 'pressure' or 'poke' to describe how it might feel. Avoid misleading information like 'it won't hurt.'

Answer your child's questions and tell them what you'll do to help make it a better experience.

Pick strategies that consider your child's needs and preferences for coping and bring them with you. Try:

  • distraction (toys, games, music, talking or singing)
  • relaxation techniques (deep belly breathing)
  • numbing medications for the skin called 'topical anesthetic'
    • these medication dull sensation from the needle and are available from the pharmacy without a prescription
    • medication should be applied 30 to 60 minutes before the appointment, so plan ahead

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During the vaccination

Your health care provider may ask you questions about your child's health, such as if they have allergies, previous reactions to vaccines or existing health problems. Talk to your health care provider about any questions or concerns you may have about the vaccines or what to expect at and after the appointment.

There are a number of ways to help manage pain or anxiety during vaccination. Using more than one approach can help prevent any anxiety or pain during vaccination.

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Babies and children under 3 years

  • Be present during the procedure, and stay positive and attentive to your child to help them feel safe and supported.
  • If you breastfeed your child, do so before, during and after the vaccination.
  • In infants who aren't breastfeeding, consider giving some sugar water in the mouth before the vaccine is given.
  • Consider applying numbing medications for the skin.
  • Hold your child in a supportive position on your lap like in a sitting or semi-sitting position.
    • The arm(s) or leg(s) receiving the vaccine(s) should be exposed (no clothes covering them).
  • Provide physical comfort during vaccination, such as with a cuddle or putting your baby firmly in your lap to help them feel calm.
  • Use a distraction, such as:
    • toys
    • blowing bubbles
    • playing music
    • pointing to a picture or object in the room

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Children 3 to 17 years

  • Be present during the procedure, and stay positive and attentive to your child to help them feel safe and supported.
  • Consider strategies that meet your child's needs and preferences for coping, such as:
    • distraction (electronic device, toys, games, music, talking or singing)
    • relaxation techniques (deep belly breathing)
    • numbing medications for the skin
  • Have your child sit upright during vaccination.
    • It may be necessary to hold your child in a supportive position to help them feel comfortable and stay still.
  • Ask your child to relax their arm and to let it feel loose and jiggly like cooked spaghetti.
  • If your child feels faint or dizzy, encourage them to squeeze their legs together for 15 seconds or until they feel warm in the face.
    • Then tell them to:
      • relax the muscles and repeat a few times or until the symptoms go away or
      • lie down

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If your child has a high level of needle fear, talk to your health care provider about it. Your child may benefit from treatment of the needle fear with an expert such as a psychologist. Treating needle fear can help children to accept vaccination and other needle procedures.

After the vaccination

You can give your child medicine to help manage common side effects such as pain and fever. Ask your health care provider what is recommended.

Finally, don't forget to book an appointment for your child's next vaccination before you leave.

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