How to Help Vaccine-Hesitant Young Children Combat Their Fears

Child getting a shot

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Key Takeaways

  • Research shows that younger kids feel more hesitation toward getting their COVID-19 shot.
  • Education and community building are key in helping kids feel comfortable getting their COVID-19 shots.
  • Vaccinating children is an important step toward reaching herd immunity and returning to "normal."

It’s no secret that kids don’t love shots—hardly anyone does—but we get them because the small discomfort they cause is worth the protection for both the individual getting their shot and those around them. Vaccinating children will help us reach herd immunity, and it can prevent kids from contracting and even dying from the virus. However, new research shows that the younger kids are, the more hesitant they feel about getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

This study analyzed data from the OxWell Student Survey on mental health and is the first study to ask children their thoughts and feelings about the coronavirus vaccine. Feeling disconnected from their school community and coming from a low socioeconomic background were also linked to a reluctance to get the jab, as was children’s belief that they had already had COVID-19.

The results illuminate the need to help kids understand more about why getting vaccinated is important and to provide more resources to help younger children feel comfortable about getting vaccinated.

A Closer Look at the Study

Although prior research has asked parents about their willingness to vaccinate their children, the researchers involved in this study were interested in what the kids had to say. Schoolchildren aged 9 to 18 completed surveys that asked about their willingness to get vaccinated, as well as information about their behaviors, mental health, and life experiences. 

The researchers found that the youngest children were the most apprehensive about vaccination, and that openness to receiving their vaccine increased with age. While 78% of 17-year-olds said they would get the shot, only 36% of 9-year-olds said the same.

One limitation of the study is that the sample size was fairly small. The authors recognize that it may not be wholly representative of the United Kingdom, where the research was conducted. They also support the need for more information about the COVID-19 vaccine directed towards kids, especially those from marginalized communities. They believe that more resources should be dedicated to helping children feel safe and comfortable with getting the vaccine. 

Helping Children Through the Fear of Getting a Shot

If your child is nervous about getting vaccinated because the needle scares them, explaining that it will hurt for a short time but then it will be over may help. You can also tell them how it will protect them and others from becoming very sick.

"Talk to [your] child about what will happen at the doctor’s visit, and answer any questions they might have beforehand," says Mona Amin, MD, a board-certified pediatrician and creator of PedsDocTalk, a parenting resource on Instagram where she provides relatable and easy-to-digest education for the modern parent. . "Role-playing can be hugely beneficial in younger children, at home before the visit."

Mona Amin, MD

Talk to [your] child about what will happen at the doctor’s visit, and answer any questions they might have beforehand. Role-playing can be hugely beneficial in younger children, at home before the visit.

— Mona Amin, MD

Verbalizing what’s happening during the visit may also help, but your body language may be more important than your words. “If a parent starts to feel stressed, the child often senses that energy,” explains Dr. Amin. “When the parent verbalizes what’s happening, it also helps the parent to stay calm in a chaotic moment.”

Why Kids Should Get the COVID-19 Vaccine

Getting our world back to a so-called "normal" depends heavily on enough people getting vaccinated. Vaccines are a crucial step towards ending this pandemic and being able to live our lives without major precautions like wearing masks and avoiding indoor gatherings.

“By vaccinating individuals, we may be able to reach a level of immunity to the virus that is high enough to prevent many infections but not stop all of them,” notes Maulin Soneji, MD, a pediatrician and pediatric infectious disease specialist at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital. “This may help us, as a country, get to a level of infection that is considered acceptable.”

COVID-19 affects children less than adults, but they can still get the virus and get sick from it. Variants may prove to be more dangerous to children as they develop.

Maulin Soneji, MD

By vaccinating individuals, we may be able to reach a level of immunity to the virus that is high enough to prevent many infections but not stop all of them.

— Maulin Soneji, MD

“Variants occur when the virus infects an unvaccinated host and mutates, changing itself to become stronger in some instances,” explains Dr. Amin.

Children who are infected may also pass the virus to others, including those who are immunocompromised or who cannot get the vaccine due to medical reasons. “This protection...does help prevent some infections, and when one does become infected, it seems that they shed the virus for a shorter duration,” notes Dr. Soneji.

It's important for parents to take their kids to get the COVID-19 vaccine if they are already eligible and if not, as soon as the COVID-19 vaccine is approved for their age group.

What This Means For You

Now that we are able to vaccinate our 5- to 11-year-olds, it’s important to talk about why getting the COVID-19 vaccine is important and to offer reassurance about the process itself. Now is a good time to reach out to your child’s healthcare provider with questions you may have about the COVID-19 vaccine for children. 

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Key things to know about COVID-19 vaccines. Updated October 7, 2021.

  2. Fazel M, Puntis S, White SR, et al. Willingness of children and adolescents to have a COVID-19 vaccination: results of a large whole schools survey in EnglandEClinicalMedicine. 2021;0(0). doi:10.1016/j.eclinm.2021.101144

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 vaccines for children and teens. Updated August 17, 2021.

  4. Chia P-Y, Ong S, Chiew CJ, et al. Virological and serological kinetics of SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant vaccine-breakthrough infections: a multi-center cohort study. MedRxiv [preprint]. 2021. doi:10.1101/2021.07.28.21261295

By Elisa Cinelli
Elisa is a well-known parenting writer who is passionate about providing research-based content to help parents make the best decisions for their families. She has written for well-known sites including POPSUGAR and Scary Mommy, among others.