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A fear of needles is common in children. While some children may have no recollection of previous experiences with vaccinations, others may associate the idea of having a vaccine as a painful and scary procedure due to the involvement of needles.
For some children, adolescents and even adults, this fear presents as a significant phobia, resulting in severe persistent anxiety, fear, and an inability to sit still or even consider having a vaccination.
Often this fear will lead to significant difficulties for children undergoing something as simple as an immunisation. Immunisation attempts may result in crying, screaming and running away, leaving both the child and parent distressed. Often there are simple measures that parents can take to prepare or distract your child
that will make the process easier.
When it comes to vaccination, it is recommended that children and adolescents with anxiety, intellectual disabilities, and needle phobia avoid larger scale vaccination settings. These are loud and busy places and can increase a child’s distress and make the process more difficult. Families should consider visiting
a smaller setting, such as a GP clinic.
Distraction is a key component for successful vaccination in children. It helps to focus their attention away from the procedure or associated discomfort. The most successful techniques will involve interaction with another person, such as the parent. It is best to distract your child away from the immunisation provider.
Local anaesthetic creams are available for purchase from pharmacies. These creams will numb the top layer of the skin, minimising the sting from the needle. This may help to minimise pain, but also make the experience a more positive one. Apply the anaesthetic cream to
the upper arm region for vaccinations. If local anaesthetic creams are not available, ice or an ice pack applied to the site for 10-20 seconds will help to decrease sensation and help minimise pain.
When all other options have been exhausted, sometimes sedation can be the only way to vaccinate a child without making it a traumatic experience. Several immunisation providers in metropolitan Melbourne and Geelong can offer sedation options for children with an extreme fear of
needles. This service is available at The Royal Children's Hospital. Please contact our
Immunisation Service for more information.
Can my child be vaccinated against COVID-19 at the RCH?
The COVID-19 vaccine is available to RCH patients aged 5 years and over who have a chronic medical condition and are eligible to receive the paediatric Pfizer immunisation at the RCH. For information on eligible medical conditions, please visit the
following fact sheet. Appointments are essential, no walk-ins. Appointments are not available to the general public. Please visit the
Department of Health website for alternative COVID-19 vaccination locations.
My child has significant needle related anxiety, what is the best way to get them vaccinated?
Ensure you visit a practitioner that is experienced in childhood vaccination. Parents might consider offering a reward to their child after the procedure is completed. Parents can also build a tailored plan with their child at the Meg Foundation website or with their local immunisation provider, which can include the use of local anaesthetic cream prior to the appointment.
I have attempted to vaccinate my child twice at my local service and failed. Where do I go from here?
The Royal Children’s Hospital Immunisation Service for more information.
My child has a significant intellectual disability, and I am concerned they may cause injury to myself of the immunisation provider. How do I approach this?
At The Royal Children’s Hospital, we are able to offer a tailored approach to successful vaccination of your child. This may or may not require a form of sedation.
Contact our Immunisation Service for more information.
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Immunisation and Comfort Kids departments. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed January 2022
Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit www.rchfoundation.org.au.
This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.