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Parents are encouraged to talk to their children openly about vaccines and address concerns as a family through informed, accurate research.

Talking to kids about vaccines involves a lot of listening

Friday, November 5, 2021

Media Contact: Gail Ellis | Communications Specialist, Copywriter | 620-515-2498 |

With the federal Food and Drug Administration’s authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, many parents are fielding questions from their kids about the shot.

The COVID-19 vaccine has received more attention and press than other inoculations in recent history, and an informative, accurate conversation with children can be difficult to initiate.

“Parents should check in and talk to their kids about the vaccine,” said Laura Hubbs-Tait, a Regents professor and Oklahoma State University Extension parenting specialist. “Family meetings can help children bring concerns to the table and allow a family to process vaccine information and other important family topics together.”

Explaining the purpose of a vaccine and its health benefits is the parents’ responsibility, Hubbs-Tait said, but they are justified in researching the shot before making a decision that affects the health of their children.

“There doesn’t seem to be a consensus among those for or against it,” said Amanda Foster, a clinical professor of pediatrics and chair of pediatrics at the OSU Center for Health Sciences. “Parents want to know if the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks.”

Foster said vaccine hesitancy is not a new phenomenon to parents or pediatricians. Both parties want to protect children and provide care that is safe and effective. When misinformation about vaccines spread to families in a manner that instills fear, pediatricians can address parental concerns with accurate data from reliable sources.

“We value partnerships with parents, in which we have mutual trust and respect as we navigate the health care of their children,” Foster said. “We’re always open to discussions with parents and answering any questions they may have.”

All vaccines are non-infectious stimuli that evoke a person’s immune system to build immunity against the specific disease without the person having to suffer the actual disease processes, Foster said. As with any vaccine, including those for COVID-19, side effects or adverse effects are possible and most commonly involve redness and swelling at the injection site, fever, malaise, headache or muscle soreness.

“These are signs that the body is mounting an immune response, as expected,” Foster said.

Although serious side effects can happen, she said they are very rare. Concerns about side effects can be discussed among the pediatrician/parent team.

“Parents should feel comfortable sharing questions and knowledge with their child’s pediatrician,” Foster said. “The child should also be included, as developmentally appropriate, in the discussion.”

Once parents have decided if they want their child to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, they can feel confident answering their kids’ questions. Foster and Hubbs-Tait recommend limiting exposure to television and social media coverage of the pandemic as well as adult conversation on the topic.

The pandemic has caused anxiety in children of all ages, Foster said, and a kid-friendly COVID-19 talk should be intentional. Listen to youth, identify their fears and talk through the concerns with these tips:

  • Ask the child to share the information they’ve heard about the vaccine and to express their own thoughts about it.
  • Listen carefully. Rephrase what the child said and ask clarifying questions.
  • Discuss their feelings and emotions surrounding the topic and their reasons behind their emotions.
  • Research together reliable, accurate sources of information.

“Parents are the first line of defense against hysteria surrounding vaccines,” Hubbs-Tait said. “Parents should filter out the overcharged emotionality that can be overwhelming and filter in love and reassurance. Accept that your children may be scared or concerned by the things they hear or see. It is ok for them to feel sad, angry, afraid or confused. You can help them manage feelings by accepting them and encouraging them to talk.”

Information on preparing children for the COVID-19 vaccine is available online through the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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