Pain and Needles
I’ll be honest with you. I don’t like needles. I don’t like getting a shot myself, and I hate having to give one to a baby. It’s one of the reasons why I think very carefully every time I need to do a blood test for my patients, making sure it’s really necessary.
Of course, I’m not the only adult who doesn’t like needles. Many parents are very anxious when it comes to giving vaccinations to their baby. They don’t like causing pain, even though they know how important it is. Many parents are afraid of letting their child get several shots at the same time, and they try to postpone the vaccines and only give them just one at a time... but is that the smart way to go?
The Effect on the Immune System
From the moment a baby is born, his immune system is exposed to thousands of different types of germs, every hour of every day. Every time the baby breathes, eats or puts his hand in his mouth, bacteria and viruses enter his body, his nose, his mouth, his lungs and stomach. While millions of germs are constantly inhabiting his skin, his immune system has no difficulty protecting him from any harm. Compared to that, a vaccine containing only a few particles of bacteria or viruses (and sometimes only in fragments) is no challenge to the immune system at all. Giving multiple vaccinations at once doesn’t make our immune system weaker; on the contrary, it’s an excellent boost to immunity. And despite what parents may think, it doesn’t increase the risk of any significant side effects.
The “Fear of Needles”
This is the main concern of most parents. They’re afraid that giving a child several shots at the same time will cause more pain to their child. Actually, the major problem with getting a shot is the fear, the anxiety that comes with the knowledge that something painful is going to happen. The actual pain itself is very brief. It only lasts for a second or two.
From a psychological point of view, it’s much better for the child to endure one stressful visit to the doctor, getting a few shots and being done with it, than having to go through this unpleasant experience again and again and again. If a parent decides to give a child only one shot at a time, he actually causes the child to experience even more stress and anxiety.
Missing the Opportunity
When a parent decides to postpone vaccinations, it means it will take a much longer time for the baby to reach protective levels of immunity. Occasionally, the baby will miss the vaccine altogether. It is much safer and much better for the baby’s health to receive all the vaccinations at the recommended scheduled time rather than delaying the inevitable.
What can we parents do to help our child?
There are a number of ways to reduce a child's anxiety and fear of needles.
One of the most important factors in a child’s response to stress or pain is the parents' reaction. When a child runs and falls, his first reaction will be to look at one of his parents. If the parent is calm and relaxed, the baby will usually just stand up and keep on running. If the parent acts in an anxious way, the baby will become anxious and will start crying. If a parent stays calm while his child is getting a vaccination, the baby often won't cry or only cry for a very short time and quickly relax.
Distractions are another means of dealing with the stress and pain—including hugging the baby and singing him a quiet song; allowing the child to hug her favorite toy or comfort object; or playing a cartoon. These can be used depending on the child's age.
Anesthetic cream (EMLA) can be used to reduce pain, and sometimes putting ice on the location of the injection just before giving the vaccination can be helpful in minimizing a painful sensation.
Dr. Jonathan Halevy, Head of Pediatrics, Family Medical Practice Ho Chi Minh City