Quite a few parents have dealt with their children’s fear of needles, which gets in the way of routine procedures, such as vaccinations, and causes major distress for the child. Researchers suggest, however, that unwillingness to get shots can be offset by participating in a learning event with needles, where children are introduced to the purpose of injections and get to be doctors themselves.
A “Let’s Be Doctors” event was recently held at 4 child centers in Tsukaba city, Ibaraki, Japan. Children were taught how injections and vaccines work and got to inject a “vaccine” (water) into “skin” (sponge) using a real syringe and an imitated needle. The resulting study revealed unwillingness to get vaccines and fear of needles decreased significantly after the event.
Generally, needle phobia (or trypanophobia) is closely associated with unwillingness to get vaccinations – children start to fear shots after experiencing pain during an injection, however, this fear only increases the discomfort in any future procedures, with some children even missing scheduled immunizations as a result. A so called “cognitive intervention” explaining the steps and purpose of medical procedures has been validated as an effective approach to manage such fears. However, such interventions are usually only carried out in hospitals, while healthy children, who can become hospitalized suddenly or are struggling with routine procedures, miss out on such opportunities.
“Let’s Be Doctors” was designed to target healthy school-age children and involved three parts: learning all about needles, learning how vaccines work and “injecting” a “vaccine”. Participants learned about blood sampling, local anesthesia and intravenous drips, heart and blood vessels and touched needles and syringes of various sizes. An informative slideshow explained how vaccinations prevent disease and how they work in the human body.
Lastly, the participants played “doctors”: dressed in a white coat, drew “medicine” (colored water) in a real syringe, which they themselves set with a mock “needle”, disinfected the patients “arm” (an absorbent sponge) and injected the “medicine” into the “skin”. Then the “doctor” covered the site with a patch and disposed of the needles in a biohazard container. The participants also fulfilled questionnaires before and after the event, looking at their fear of needles, willingness and recommendation to get vaccinations and fear towards doctors.
The study showed that most children tend to recommend their family or friends to get shots, suggesting the children appreciated the importance of vaccinations even before the learning event. Most importantly, the number of children reporting a fear of needles was significantly reduced after the event, as well as the children’s motivation to get vaccinations. This is significant both to ensure that children do not miss their routine vaccinations, but also to reduce the stress during similar procedures, since motivation influences the children’s ability to cope with painful situations, while a fearful state of mind only increases the pain and distress during shots.
The researchers suggest such an intervention is most effective in school-age individuals – even though most vaccinations occur between the ages of 0 and 6, school children are able to take more from such experiences and prepare for actual healthcare situations through play. Besides, the mean age of onset of needle phobia is between 8 and 10 years, and it might linger onto adulthood if not prevented, resulting in a trail of missed immunizations.
August is National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM) (US), more information about the initiative can be found here.
Written by Eglė Marija Ramanauskaitė