Registered nurse speaks to common vaccine nervousness in youth and how they aim to create a new, positive vaccine memory

Public Health nurse and immunizer at the Amherst Community Vaccine Clinic, Christina Chitty and her daughter, Bailey. (contributed)

Christina Chitty has spent the last 27 years immunizing school-age children in her role as a Public Health nurse.

When COVID-19 vaccines arrived in Nova Scotia, Chitty transitioned from the school setting to the pandemic front-line, where she currently works at the Amherst Community Vaccine Clinic. 

Over the course of her career, Chitty has witnessed first-hand the reality that the younger demographic tends to be more anxious around needles.

Now that Nova Scotians aged 12-and-up are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, Chitty shares techniques that Public Health vaccine teams across the province provide to help make the vaccination appointment more enjoyable. 

“When you can start to create a new memory for somebody, that helps them (with their vaccine uneasiness) long-term,” said Chitty.

It is common for children to experience the fear of fainting when they go for a vaccine. 

By laying a child down on the floor to get the vaccine, their chances of fainting or feeling faint are reduced. The lying down position itself can also bring a feeling of calmness and relaxation to the client in distress. 

In a school immunization setting, many students would not feel comfortable lying down in front of their peers. 

To combat this barrier, Public Health vaccine teams that have the space to accommodate in their clinics are normalizing the lying down position by strongly encouraging this technique to those who seem uncomfortable and by making the vaccine-administering space private. 

“We’ve created an environment here (at the Amherst Community Vaccine Clinic) where we can keep it private so they can lay down without anyone seeing them,” said Chitty. 

Having done routine school immunizations over the summer due to the pandemic, Chitty noticed that the students she vaccinated were much less stressed about their vaccinations compared to usual, as their peers were not around. 

“I am predicting it will be calmer (at the COVID-19 vaccine clinics),” said Chitty who spoke to how the set-up of vaccine clinics will likely reduce the fear of embarrassment that many children feel in front of their peers – since there will be a mix of all age groups present to receive the vaccine and social distancing requirements make the environment more private. 

Another technique to reduce anxiousness is distractions. 

Distractions employed can come in a variety of forms, such as getting the client to listen to music. At the Amherst Community Vaccine Clinic, Chitty has put up posters that are meant to keep the client’s mind busy and occupied. For example, one poster prompts observers to find how many cats or faces are in the picture. 

Overall, the goal is to reduce anxiousness and create a positive vaccination for the client. 

“We always hope that our clients walk away with a good experience after coming to us nervous,” said Chitty. 

These are just a couple techniques, but there are endless options for supporting clients that Public Health vaccine teams put in action every day to meet the individual needs of those in their care.

“I have witnessed youth who refused vaccinations in grade seven and very nervous students, who this week have stepped up, showed courage and demonstrated how caring they are to put aside their fears and protect themselves and their community,” said Chitty. “It is such an honour to work with these shining stars!”

Chitty noted that many of her clients have not felt the COVID-19 needle go into their arms. 

“It’s just a great vaccine,” she said. “Most people don’t even notice they got it, which is nice for children who are really nervous.”

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