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Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine keeps a vaccine drop off sign planted outside for the Athens City County Health Department.

OU’s Child-Life program aids in vaccination of young children

As a child, any unfamiliar place can be frightening, and it doesn’t make it any easier when they’re receiving a vaccination shot they do not understand. The Department of Child and Family Studies’ Child-Life program at Ohio University, in tandem with the Athens City-County Health Department, or ACCHD, has done its part to make sure children feel welcome when arriving to receive their COVID-19 vaccine.

James Gaskell, health commissioner of the ACCHD, said the department held vaccination clinics at the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine and successfully vaccinated 769 children ages five to 11.

Gaskell said the presence of the students from the Child-Llife program introduced a more efficient and calmer environment than the clinics previously had without it.

“It was wonderful. I was there; I watched it,” Gaskell said. “They were terrific, and they were really helpful, very patient and made those clinics much, much smoother.”

Janelle Mitchell, an assistant clinical professor, said she worked closely with the students involved with the vaccination clinics through the Child-Life program. 

The students were placed at stations greeting families when they entered, checking on children while they waited to get their shot, comforting children during their vaccination and occupying the kids for the 15-minute observation after receiving the vaccine.

Mitchell said there were around 30 total students at each clinic who changed the environment with board games, bubbles, music and more to make all the patients feel safe.

“If we can engage them in distraction and play and help them understand the sequence of events, that can totally change the trajectory of what they thought the experience was going to be,” Mitchell said.

Hayleigh Larmore, a graduate student in the Child-Life program, was one of the students who attended the vaccination clinic to work with the children. She said they offered a wide variety of services to the kids, whether it was an iPad game or letting them sit on their lap during the vaccination. They thought of everything they could to make it a more comfortable experience for the children.

“We get down on their level. We talk to them, and we’d say, ‘Hey, do you know why you’re here? Do you know what the COVID vaccine is?’” Larmore said. “It was just a lot of supporting, reducing their fear and helping them prepare for what was going to happen.”

Mitchell said the department centers around educating students on working with children and families who encounter various health care experiences. She said the clinics were opportunities to work with kids of all ages to ease their minds in an unfamiliar or unsettling environment.

“What we’re doing with our program is to help students understand the different modalities and interventions they can do with children and families,” Mitchell said. “If we can provide some kind of preparation for what they can expect, we can decrease the anxiety and fear.”

Larmore said the clinic functioned as a trial run for her to get experience working with kids as she hopes to do professionally in her career.  She said the program began because the vaccination clinics were reminiscent of a hospital setting in which a child life specialist is essential. 

Larmore said her professors recognized this and reached out to the ACCHD to accomplish a mutually beneficial relationship in which the vaccination patients feel safer, and the students get unique, hands-on experience they otherwise would not have.

The clinics were also beneficial to the students and the department because the work of a child life specialist largely goes unnoticed, but opportunities such as these and the effect they have on children and families emphasize the positive and significant work of a child life specialist, Mitchell said.

“I think being able to impact and work with the community and give back was such a huge bonus for us,” Mitchell said.


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