by Robin Kochel, PhD
Nobody likes being sick, right? Not only do you feel terrible, but you miss out on fun things that you love, like being with your friends, playing sports, going to camp, and doing other cool activities. Fortunately, we have medicines that often help. Scientists and doctors have developed a wide variety of medicines that can cure or reduce the symptoms of an illness, but they’ve also developed something else—a way to prevent us from getting sick in the first place! They’re called vaccines, also referred to as shots or immunizations.
A vaccine is a special tool that tells our bodies to make antibodies against a particular illness, like chicken pox or the flu. If we come into contact with a certain germ or virus that would make us sick, antibodies protect us—kind of like our own personal defense system. The original idea behind vaccines was created in the 1700s, when many people were getting sick from an illness called smallpox. A doctor discovered that exposure to a small amount of inactive smallpox virus actually had a protective effect. Since then, many different vaccines have been created to combat a variety of illnesses. And widespread vaccination over time has actually wiped out some diseases entirely!
Now, just like we don’t like getting sick, nobody really likes getting a vaccine. Fortunately, most of the vaccines recommended for children are given when we are babies. There are some vaccines we only get once or twice in our lives and others we get every year, like a flu shot. Even though we may not get a vaccine very often, some people feel scared about getting one. Many children worry that it will hurt (and many later realize that it’s not as bad as they thought it would be!). But when we compare the momentary feeling of a shot to getting really sick, the scale tips in favor of getting the vaccine. Not only are we better protecting ourselves against harmful diseases, we are protecting others around us—our family, friends, classmates, neighbors—because vaccines help stop illnesses from spreading from one person to the next.
Still, it’s ok to be scared or nervous about getting a vaccine—many people feel that way. If you are afraid about an upcoming shot, talk to your parents or caregivers and your doctor about it. They can answer your questions and help you feel more prepared. Remember that receiving a vaccine takes only a few seconds, so it will be over with before you know it. But being prepared might help you feel better. Check out the suggestions below for how to feel more at ease during your doctor’s visit:
Bring a favorite lovey with you, like a stuffed animal or blanket, that helps you to feel calm.
Ask your parent to read you a book or let you watch a favorite show on a smartphone or tablet to distract you.
Practice taking deep breaths through your nose and then letting it out through your mouth slowly. Do this at least three times.