“It’s Not a Shot, It’s a Superpower”
Educating Kids While They Get Shots

By Dale Dauten, Syndicated Columnist

Mike Popovich, CEO of STC, had an idea: We would interview kids about vaccinations and come up with some cute stories for the IINews, and while doing so, explore the possibilities for turning kids into Junior Immunization Ambassadors. Good idea, right?

So we set up individual interviews at the Lowell school in Phoenix, and focus group-style interviews at Kinderbugs in Chandler. I think this moment summarizes the experience:

Mike sat on the floor with a semi-circle of seven kids, four to six years old. He’d warmed up the crowd talking about Halloween costumes and what they wanted to be when they grew up. (This will be relevant later.)

Then he moved into talking about doctors and about getting shots. Some had recently gotten flu shots and had experiences to share.

Next, Mike suggested role play. That’s when one energetic lad volunteered to play the doctor, walked on his knees up to Mike and said, “I’ll give you a shot,” reared back and whack!, punched Mike on the arm.

Mike shook off the blow and managed a fake laugh, but I noticed his hand came up to a defensive position in case the “doctor” had other treatments in mind.

That punch does express what most of these kids know about shots: they hurt. Their comments:

  • “I was scared. I had one tear. But that’s all.”
  • “I was crying and we went home and I was still crying.”
  • “I didn’t cry but a little. It hurt a lot.”
  • “I didn’t cry, but my baby brother cried.”

On the other end of the spectrum, these were the most positive recollections:

  • “I was about to cry but I didn’t.”
  • “I got a Band-aid.”
  • “It doesn’t really hurt.”
  • “I was brave.”

So, nothing too unexpected. Then, the kids were asked why they’d gotten shots. Here they struggled. Most shrugged. One said, “Not to be sick,” and another ventured, “So you feel better.”

Along the way there were two truly surprising comments…

First, and I think this one rates the “kids say the darnedest things” label, one lad explained why he had to go to the doctor: “I got sick because I licked the car.”

And then this intriguing one, from one of the girls: “Our dogs get shots because, if they don’t, they’ll get heartworms and die.”

 If only the kids were so clear about their shots as that last girl describing her dogs’ shots.

And that brings us to the biggest takeaway from our research:

In that moment before and after the injection, vaccinators have a captive audience. What can we do to educate them and make them understand the good being done?

Said another way, we are missing an opportunity. We have the chance to persuade kids on the value of vaccinations, while reinforcing the beliefs of the adults who brought them in.

We figured that after millions of kids’ vaccinations, that many bright and creative people would have come up with the perfect dialog for describing the “why” of immunizing. Not so.

There are endless articles about how to talk to kids about vaccinations, but these mostly were about how to minimize negative reactions (like screaming). Plenty of good advice about singing a song or other distractions at injection time, but very little in the way of an education on the benefits of getting shots.

The closest was a PBS video about flu shots from “Sid the Science Kid.” The downside is that Sid goes on for nearly half an hour. Along the way you get an explanation of antibodies and immunity, but for a quick description of why a kid needs a shot, you get the mom saying “it’s the best way to stay healthy,” which doesn’t seem too creative, and then there’s this:

“The flu can spread pretty fast around the whole town. So, by getting a vaccination today, you’re helping to keep yourself healthy and the whole town, too.”

This latter argument is appealing for two reasons:

First, it fits with STC’s earlier research on corporate flu-shot programs, in which we felt the message of “protect the team” was our strongest pitch. (The motto we used was, “You didn’t get it from me.”)

Second, going back to the warmup conversations Mike had with the kids, when he led a conversation about Halloween and about future careers, they revealed a fascination with superheroes, which fits a protect-the-city message.

So here’s our suggestion for a way to educate kids about vaccinations:

When we give them a shot, we’re giving them a superpower — the power to defeat germs and to protect their family and their school. And instead of just distracting them, we have a new “Vaccine Superhero” flier to show them while they get the shot – it distracts with cartoons, plus has kid-friendly information from a pediatrician on the back.

If you’d like to give it a try, you can download the cartoons and message here, ready to print out on standard paper.

Download Vaccine Superhero PDF>>>

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