University of Pittsburgh Pharmacists Empower Pediatric Patients While Receiving Vaccinations

Pharmacist Sophia Herbert vaccinates a pediatric patient at the Pitt Vaccination and Health Connection Hub in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Pharmacist Sophia Herbert vaccinates a pediatric patient at the Pitt Vaccination and Health Connection Hub in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Prior to the pandemic, pharmacists in Pennsylvania weren’t permitted to vaccinate children—except for flu vaccines that they could administer to kids ages 9 years and older. When the Federal PREP Act authorized pharmacists, interns, and technicians to provide COVID-19 vaccines to children as young as 3 years of age, pharmacists took on the new responsibility with great compassion for this patient population in Pennsylvania and beyond.

“We prepared very intentionally for providing vaccines to children,” said Sophia Herbert, PharmD, Assistant Professor of Pharmacy and Therapeutics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy.

The pharmacists knew that, given the choice, most children would not merely be hesitant, they could be outright vaccine refusers in order to avoid getting a shot. To instill confidence that would last a lifetime, the pharmacists needed to ensure their young patients had a good experience when getting vaccinated.

Herbert and her team called in child life specialists from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh (CHP) to share best practices for keeping kids calm and getting them on board in what, for some, could be a traumatic situation. Child life specialists are clinically trained to understand the impact of illness and injury on children. Based on what Herbert and her colleagues learned from the CHP experts, they came up with several ways to make children feel comfortable and in control at the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the Pitt Vaccination and Health Connection Hub.

“We have really embraced creating an individualized experience for the kids and families who come to get vaccinated with us,” Herbert said.

Part of that experience is the outer space–themed room, the brainchild of Trish Klatt, PharmD, clinical director of the Pitt Vaccination and Health Connection Hub. She repurposed an alcove in the clinic space to be a calming, celestial setting as a distraction for children. Tiny twinkling lights, an astronaut balloon, UFO model, and moon balloons hang from the ceiling in front of a deep blue backdrop. Kids can sit in a comfy “alien-green” colored chair.

“When a kid that’s clearly anxious comes in, our team will often take them straight back to the space room, which is a more private and fun area, to get them vaccinated, rather than take them through the normal workflow,” Herbert said. “I overheard an intern, Abigail Stewart, saying, ‘On the count of three, say your favorite planet,’ and that’s when she gave the little girl the vaccine. I heard, ‘1, 2, 3,’ and then the little girl screamed, ‘Earth!’”

Practice Pearl

To increase confidence in pediatric patients, help children to feel comfortable and in control during their health care visit for immunizations.

Learn more

Herbert and her team also ensure children feel like they are a part of the decision making by allowing them to create a “poke plan.” Before they administer the vaccine, immunizers let children decide on several aspects of the experience: whether they want to look directly at or away from the syringe; sit on a parent’s lap or independently in a chair; and hear the immunizer count down or not listen to the timing of the injection said aloud.

“Even though the parent has made the decision to have [their children] vaccinated, we help them make some of their own decisions about what the experience will be like,” Herbert explained.

Given the child-centered experience that the Pitt Vaccination and Health Connection Hub offers its pediatric patients, it’s no wonder that, as Herbert said, “Our volume remains relatively high, even as the initial waves of interest in getting the vaccine have waned.”

Resources to help Educate Your Health Care Team on COVID-19 vaccines and Tailor Your Outreach to specific populations are available at APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.