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Strategies for dealing with needle phobia during vaccinations

One child plays doctor and pretends to give another child a needle.
Talking to your child about what will happen when they get their immunisation can help ease their worries.

Roughly a quarter of the population has a fear of needles and with school vaccinations coming up, there’s a good chance you’re about to find out if your kids are included in that quarter. If your child is showing signs of distress or fear about upcoming injections, here are some strategies you can use to start managing their nervousness around getting vaccinated.

Talk about fears and concerns

If your child is distressed about the idea of getting an injection, talk to them about where their fear is coming from. Our fear of injections frequently comes from previous experiences with injections and tests, and talking about it can help to keep fears from snowballing. Identify the parts of the process that are most frightening, and what might have been different about past experiences – talking can really help ease those fears.

Arm yourself with information

Call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) or your local vaccine provider if you require more information about what vaccines are going to be given, why they’re going to be given and what the process will be. Having as much information as possible will help you answer questions your child might have about what’s going to happen.

Tell your child the truth about what’s going to happen

Be prepared to tell your child the truth about their injection – both the reasons behind them and the reality of the experience. Avoid suggesting that the needle won’t hurt – it may sting for a few seconds, but it won’t last long.

A father sits on the grass and talks to his two children.

Deploy distractions at the appropriate time

If you child is about to receive vaccinations in the school program, you may like to advise the vaccine provider on the consent form if your child is worried about being vaccinated. The vaccine provider may be able to have an ice pack available to apply prior to vaccination to help numb their skin and reduce the sting of the injection.

You could also talk to your child about taking a few deep breaths to calm themselves down at the time of vaccination or using methods of distraction to shift their attention, like having a support friend.

For younger children, or children receiving their vaccinations outside of the school immunisation program, you can help to draw your child’s attention away from the injection by playing a game, distracting them with a phone or iPad, using a rattle and giving plenty of cuddles and physical contact.

For more information

If your child is experiencing a phobia or more prolonged anxiety about needles, the Queensland Specialist Immunisation Service (QSIS) provides up-to-date advice and vaccination recommendations for children with complex medical conditions and for children who have experienced an adverse event following immunisation.

Based at Queensland Children's Hospital in Brisbane, the service aims to complement and strengthen existing immunisation services delivered by GPs and community health centres. Specialist services offered within QSIS include:

  • Specialist Immunisation Clinic (including telehealth)
  • Telephone advice (for health professionals)
  • An Immunisation Centre

For more information, visit the Queensland Children’s Health website or download the QSIS factsheet.

Last updated: 5 February 2019