We’re Teaching Kids to Fear Shots: a Pediatrician’s Perspective

Last updated on May 17th, 2018 at 04:38 pm

Editor’s Note: As the events in West Africa show, infectious disease epidemics devastate communities, spread fear, and create civil unrest. Vaccinations – when available – protect our children and society. However, as Dr. Amy Baxter explains in this post and accompanying TEDx Talk video, our vaccination approach is creating the unintended consequence of widespread needle fear in children.  In honor of our 5 Year Bloggiversary, we are publishing 5 of our favorite posts – one from each year since the day we started. This is our final “look back” post.   

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mother holding boy while he gets a shot“How do you respond when the place that you trust to keep you healthy hurts you…or ignores your plan…or ignores you?” …”We have had an erosion of empathy in medicine. Somehow we’ve decided to ignore the fact that shots…hurt.” …TEDx Talks 11/2013

As flu season hits, there is a segment of our society whose immune system health won’t be protected this year – those who fear needles. In a 2012 study, 23% of those who don’t get their shot avoid the protection because of a fear of needles. While needle-less options are improving, they better get here soon: 63% of our teenagers are now afraid of needles.

For most people, the fear of needles develops around age 4-6 years of age. That’s the age when kids born since 2000 are getting 4-5 shots on one day. Before 1983, people only got 6 shots total, and mostly before age two, so not as many adults remember…and consequently, not as many fear needles. Not the same for their kids…

“Last year a paper came out and now 2 out of 3 children have a severe fear of needles. What happens when they grow up? The fear of needles doesn’t usually go away by itself. And adults who are afraid of needles are less likely to get health care, they are less likely to donate blood…and they’re even less likely to vaccinate their own kids. So when these children who were born in 2000 or later are old enough to drive themselves to the doctor…what if they don’t??” …TEDx Talks 11/2013

Given the group of kids growing up now, if we don’t start addressing this, the problems for public health are only going to grow.

“The number and the way we’re giving shots is causing needle fear …and needle fear causes people to avoid healthcare as adults. In order to keep our communities safe, doctors need to own the problem of needle pain…the solution is not to stop vaccinating…it’s to partner to start making the 4-6 year old shots better” …TEDx Talks 11/2013

There are ways to advocate to decrease pain for kids getting shots, as seen here. But to hear more about the rise and consequences of fear of needles and some of the solutions we can pursue, watch my full TEDx Talks presentation below:

About the Author

Dr. Amy Baxter is a pediatric emergency medicine physician and the inventor of pain relievers Buzzy® and Bee-Stractors DistrACTION™ cards. After graduating from Yale University and Emory Medical School, she completed Pediatrics Residency and a Child Abuse Fellowship at Cincinnati Children’s and Pediatric Emergency Medicine training at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters in Virginia. As a pain management researcher and advocate, when the oldest of her three children met a “needle wielding fiend”, she invented a device that blocks needle pain. She is the director of Emergency Research for Pediatric Emergency Medicine Associates at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Scottish Rite, and a Clinical Associate Professor at Medical College of Georgia. Buzzy - Dr Baxter's innovative solution to blocking needle pain for kids - was a feature story in Pediatric Safety in July of 2011.

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