Today I took my two oldest daughters (8 and 6) to get the flu vaccine at the pharmacy. My wife got hers before Christmas and we have to take our youngest to the doctor for the shot since she is too young to get it done at the pharmacy. I filled out the requisite forms and went through the pros and cons with my daughters and asked for their consent before I signed to give consent on their behalf. I want them to feel and have some degree of control over their own bodies and optional medical treatments are one opportunity where I can give them some control and help to educate them about making decisions regarding their bodies. I also know that my six year old is not a fan of vaccines and I had hopes that giving her a sense of control would make the actual process better. Boy was I wrong.
My eight year old went first with nary a complaint. Then my six year old wanted me to go next so she could go last. Everything seemed like it was going fine until it was her turn and then she erupted. She was flailing and shouting and went totally rigid in her panic and desire to avoid the needle. This is not the first time she has reacted this way at the prospect of getting a vaccine. It is however the first time I have encountered it and when the vaccine was optional.
I managed to get her to sit down and I talked with her about the importance of vaccines and why we get them. I reminded her that she broke her arm this year and handled that pain with much bravery and very little in the way of tears. I told her that the actual needle would hurt less than pulling a bandaid off or a pinch. I offered her the opportunity to sit on my lap, which she did and then told her I would give her a big hug while the pharmacist gave her the needle so she could pay attention to my hug instead of the small prick she would feel. I reminded her that we had talked about the flu and the vaccine outside and I had asked her if she agreed to get the shot and she had said yes. I asked why she had changed her mind. It was simply because she was afraid.
All for naught. She abjectly refused to have the needle or let it anywhere near her. Since I had given her the opportunity to consent to the vaccine in the first place I felt I had no choice but to allow her to withdraw her consent.
I am still struggling with this and how to manage this situation. We believe that vaccines are very important. We have a 15 month old in the house and we believe that we are all safer and our youngest especially is safer if we all get the vaccine – all vaccines for that matter. I know that the influenza vaccine is not a great match for the strains circulating around here this year. I also know it is a particularly aggressive influenza strain. We already have two confirmed deaths and 23 hospitalizations in Ottawa related to influenza.
It is also important to take opportunities as they arise to teach my daughters about consent and give them opportunities to provide their consent before anything is done to their bodies. So I find that I am torn between values that I did not expect to find in conflict. In this case I decided that consent should win out because this vaccine is optional and is not a great match this year. I did however tell her that there are other vaccines which are not optional and for which I will sit on her if I have to in order to allow the doctor to administer them.
Giving kids the space to provide medical consent when it comes to vaccines is a challenge.Click To Tweet
So now we are wrestling with how to help her get over her fear of needles and dial down her flight response to the prospect of needles and pain in general. We get a similar response from her when it is time to remove bandaids. We are likely going to try again tomorrow and give her the option of having some tylenol before Laura takes her over. We are also considering topical anaesthetics or placebos. Even this I am not sure about because it feels like manipulation in order to get her to consent and that runs counter to what I want her to learn about consent…
I would love to hear from any of you out there who have had similar challenges with your kids or maybe even your own reaction to needles and the like. My wife and I are really at a loss on how to manage this situation.