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Afraid of needles? Specialized youth vaccine clinic expands in London, Ont.

Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre is now offering a unique vaccination clinic for children and youth who need extra support.

The full-service pediatric vaccination clinic provides individualized support to help alleviate patients’ anxieties around needles or medical procedures.

The clinic provides pediatric-trained staff, including a nurse practitioner, registered practical nurses and child life specialists, who use a variety of strategies geared to the individual needs, age and developmental stage.

Needle-related anxiety is common in many children, youth, and some adults, so the long-term hope for the clinic is to create generations of parents and adults who have good coping skills and are free of hospital anxiety.

“The idea is that if we can create a positive experience for our young patients, they will be less likely to avoid medical appointments and procedures that are important for their health in the future,” says Leah Ethier, nurse practitioner at Children’s Hospital.

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“Our ultimate goal is to help them gain the confidence and skills they need to optimize their health in the long run.”

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According to the pediatric clinic website, there is a 92 per cent success rate for completing vaccinations.

“We believe in no surprises, no tricks and no traps,” Ethier says. “We like to build really strong trust and rapport with our patients so they know they won’t be held down and the vaccine will happen when they’re safe and ready.”

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The clinic offers scheduled visits to help children become familiar with the clinic space before their appointments and walk through the steps in the procedure, so they know what to expect. The clinic also provides distractions like virtual reality goggles, books, fidget toys and video games.

In some cases, children also benefit from getting their vaccinations in non-clinical environments and may find the exam room triggering, so the procedures can be done in environments that are more comfortable for them.

“We like to meet patients where they’re at,” says Bailey Felkar, child life specialist at LHSC. “We provide a pre-screening phone call to get a better sense of the child, but ultimately it comes down to who we’re meeting in that moment and how they’ve shown up to the hospital for us that day.”

The clinic initially began in 2021 as a pilot project offering COVID-19 vaccinations. It has now received permanent funding and has expanded to include all OHIP-covered vaccines. A referral is required to attend the clinic, but parents are able to self-refer their child if they prefer not to go through a primary care provider. In the next several weeks, the clinic will begin offering travel and non-OHIP covered vaccines.

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The clinic runs Wednesdays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on a one-to-one basis. Appointments with patients can last anywhere up to two hours in unique cases with higher need.

“We have the luxury of time in this clinic,” Felkar says.

For more information, including how to book an appointment for your child, please visit the Pediatric Vaccination Clinic webpage to find the referral form and additional information.

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