On November 9, UK HealthCare and Kentucky Children’s Hospital teamed up to open a pediatric vaccination clinic and distribute COVID-19 vaccines to children.
The clinic, located in the UK’s HealthCare Outpatient Center at 245 Fountain Court, aims to give children a positive vaccination experience.
“A lot of these kids we see aren’t kids undergoing massive amounts of medical intervention,” said Dr. Jennifer Guilliams, the pediatric and family life coordinator at Kentucky Children’s Hospital. “We wanted this experience to be something we could build on positive coping to help kids feel successful [and] have a good experience to build on.”
On October 26, the FDA authorized the administration of Pfizer’s emergency COVID-19 vaccine to children ages five to 11. The CDC approved the distribution of vaccination to this age group on Nov. 2.
“We were told that the FDA would approve this vaccination, so we kind of wanted to mirror it like we did at Kroger Field,” said Madison Owens, an administrative assistant for UK HealthCare. “We worked really well with our pharmacy team, the ones who set everything up at Kroger Field.”
Owens worked with Dr. Lindsay Ragsdale, the interim chief physician of Kentucky Children’s Hospital, to open the clinic.
“There are so many different details that we needed to make sure we were all thinking. You have to have computers… syringes and needles and people, all those moving parts,” Ragsdale said. “A whole group of us in Information Technology, Pharmacy, Child Life [and] pediatrics [got] together… to make sure we have all the details in order. It was a great team to work with.”
Owens said designing the pediatric clinic was “a very different ball game” compared to designing an adult clinic.
“These are little kids who really see vaccination as a stressful time,” Owens said. “How can we make it easier for them? How can we make it easier for parents? What could be the fun of it?”
Ragsdale agreed, saying that one of her top priorities was to put the child at the center of the immunization process.
“So often, us in medicine, we’re like, ‘This is what a patient needs;’ we’re just going to give it to them without thinking about what the patient is going through,” she said.”[Children] have been through a lot in two years. Their whole life has really been turned upside down, their education, their social connections. Some of them have lost loved ones to COVID-19. We wanted to make sure that child was involved in the process rather than alone [sitting] down and [getting] a shot.”
To make the pediatric patients more comfortable, clinic volunteers give them “treasure maps” when they enter the clinic. This allows children to move around the clinic at their own pace and get their vaccinations.
“They have different stops on the map and they get to pick a set of stickers that they like and put a sticker on each stop they go to, and at the end they get a prize,” Owens said. “We can… really let them lead, and also just make sure it’s their own story.”
Ragsdale, who occasionally staffs a volunteer booth at the clinic, has seen the effect these treasure maps have on the attitudes of both children and parents.
“Sometimes…I Can See” [a child] down the hall and… they have that nervous look on their face. They don’t want to come in because they’re nervous about the shot, and then the first thing they get is this treasure map. ‘Hey, come and search with us! We’re going to have prizes and pick some stickers and it’s going to be so much fun,” Ragsdale said. “All their nervousness drains away, and the parents are so excited, ‘Hey, this is going to be okay.'”
In addition to giving children autonomy over the vaccination process, the clinic also trains its staff on how to handle children to create a safe and comfortable environment.
“We’ve managed to… have a team of Child Life Specialists, one a day, helping the volunteers understand some of the ways to interact with the child, making them a little less anxious,” said Guilliams . “When a new group of volunteers and pharmacists comes along, we do a little training with them… on specific language you want to use with the kids and specific ways to encourage them.”
Guilliams said the staff uses the “one voice” technique, where one person talks to a child at a time to avoid overwhelming the child. The clinic uses pain management techniques such as Pain Ease anesthesia sprays and vibrating devices that numb the injection sites. Parents are also informed about ways to hold and comfort their child while the child is being vaccinated.
“The parents who come in know we have specialists from Child Life, and that’s part of the reason they’re there,” Owens said.
Another point of discussion between patients and parents is the experiential space of the clinic.
“When we planned this, [we made] sure we had a space that was somewhat safe for those kids who are a little neurodiverse or have some sort of diagnosis that would create more stress for them in the active environment this clinic is in,” said Guilliams. “We were able to create a room where a door can be closed, lights, music [and] some sensory-friendly equipment to help kids who need some regulation from a sensory perspective to stay calm…or feel a little more comfortable in this environment.”
The clinic is open until the end of January. Normally the clinic is open from Monday to Friday from 1 pm to 7 pm and on Saturdays from 9 am to 5 pm. The number of vaccinations varies based on volunteer availability, but currently the clinic distributes a minimum of 130 vaccine doses each day.
“It’s great that we can start every day with that minimum and look at the numbers and open more and more [slots] every day,” says Owens. “Since yesterday [Nov. 28], we have reached more than 1,000 [doses distributed].”
The clinic is also seeing kids come back to get their second dose, which Owens described as “really exciting.”
“They come back, and they come back to a place they’re comfortable with,” Owens said. “I just love that the parents want them to bring them back and not have had a terrible experience.”
Guilliams has also seen the positive effects of the clinic within her own family.
“My daughter, who was extremely afraid of vaccinations just by going to the regular doctor, went to the clinic and got her shot, and she rocked it,” Guilliams said. “[She] has been telling all the other kids to come to this clinic, that it was easy…and she’s excited to come back Friday and get her next shot.”
Ragsdale said her ultimate goal with the clinic is to strengthen prevention and create an environment where “children can be children.”
“It was a lot of fun talking to kids… they said, ‘I get to see grandma for Christmas! I am so delighted; I can finally see her and give her a hug!’” Ragsdale said. “I think this is some hope for kids to get back to their normal lives. Maybe they can see the loved one they haven’t been able to see. Maybe they can stop wearing a mask when it’s safe. Those are all great things in children’s lives.”
Parents and guardians can enroll children for vaccines by going to www.ukvaccin.org.