Calgary

Therapy dogs to offer comfort to Calgary kids getting COVID-19 vaccine

As Alberta kids between the ages of five and 11 start to get their first COVID-19 vaccine injections Friday, Calgary's four AHS immunization clinics will have therapy dogs to help calm children's nerves.

AHS clinics will have furry friends to calm kids' nerves

These are the therapy dogs that will be on hand at the vaccination clinics to help calm kids' nerves. (PALS)

As Alberta kids between the ages of five and 11 start to get their first COVID-19 vaccine injections Friday, the province  says Calgary's four AHS immunization clinics will have therapy dogs to help calm children's nerves.

As of Friday morning, 62,739 appointments for pediatric doses had been booked in the province, including 29,726 in Calgary zone.

Diana Segboer, with the Pet Access League Society of Calgary (PALS), says the dogs do a great job of relieving anxiety in children.

"I think the benefits will be amazing," she said.

"We'll be there to greet, if there's lineups, we'll go through the lines, and let the dogs do their magic with their puppy love and we'll also be there to wait with the kids after they get their shots."

Therapy pups from PALS regularly visit a number of Calgary hospitals and care homes. And, according to Segboer, up to 40 volunteers and their dogs, who are all at least two years of age, will be visiting the immunization clinics. 

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They plan to have one to two therapy dogs at a location at any given time

"We're just there to bring the good feels," she said.

"The benefits will be amazing. It can distract a child from what's going on and how much anxiety they may be feeling."

Laura Rayner, a clinical nurse specialist at Alberta Children's Hospital, says the fear of needles is common with over 60 per cent of kids and 25 per cent of adults experiencing this fear.

According to Rayner, all immunizers at AHS clinics are specially trained in comfort care techniques which reduce pain, stress and anxiety.

And, in addition, specialized health-care providers called "child life specialists" — who help kids cope with medical procedures in a developmentally appropriate way — will be on hand in the Edmonton and Calgary clinics. They'll connect with kids and families as they wait, during the immunization and after.

"They're there to support children with needle fear and anxiety around immunization," said Rayner.

"They'll coach parents, they'll coach the children. They'll have potentially different kinds of tools, bring eye-spy cards, so different things to look at and distract the child. They'll practise deep breathing with them," she said. 

AHS has set up a webpage with information, videos and a game for children to help families prepare for immunizations.

And, when the appointment is done, there's a colourful sticker for kids to take home.

With files from Jennifer Lee

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