Children’s Hospital offers first-of-its-kind vaccine clinic for patients with unique needs and abilities

Patient Isla Gerster with Child Life Specialist Bailey Felkar

June 18, 2024

Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) is pleased to offer a first-of-its-kind in Ontario vaccination clinic for children and youth who need extra support not typically available in traditional health-care or community vaccination settings.

The full-service Paediatric Vaccination Clinic provides a supportive and individualized, team-based approach to paediatric vaccine care. It is available to families with children aged six months to seventeen years who have a valid OHIP card and require a vaccine listed under Ontario’s Routine Immunization Schedule.

"Our clinic is held in a low-stimulation, no-pressure environment where there is no shaming, blaming, bribing or judgement,” says Leah Ethier, Nurse Practitioner at Children’s Hospital. “Our goal is to work with each child and their family to come up with a game plan that will allow that child to successfully receive their vaccine on their own terms.”

Child Life Specialist Bailey Felkar (left) with Patient Aubrey Keck (right)Children and youth who may benefit from the Paediatric Vaccination Clinic include those who have anxiety related to needles, a fear of medical procedures because of negative experiences in the past, medical complexities and unique mental health, sensory or behavioural needs.

The team consists of pediatric-trained staff, including a Nurse Practitioner, Registered Practical Nurses and Child Life Specialists. Together, they use a variety of strategies geared to each child’s age and developmental stage to empower them to overcome their fear of vaccinations.

Patients at the clinic include four-year-old Isla Gerster and 12-year-old Aubrey Keck. Both have been able to successfully receive their vaccines through individualized coping plans.

“I was nervous to come to the clinic at first, but once I got there, everyone really put my mind at ease,” says Keck. "They took the time to listen and help me come up with a way to get my vaccine that worked just for me.”

Child Life Specialist Nancy (left) with Nurse Practitioner Leah Ethier (right)Bailey Felkar, Child Life Specialist at Children’s Hospital, was part of Keck’s care team. She says they used a combination of numbing cream, massagers, music and breathing techniques in a private space to make a world of difference. For Gerster, the trick was “magic [numbing] cream,” a bubble gun and learning how to pretend to give her doll the same vaccine.

“Our clinic is all about meeting patients where they’re at and encouraging them to be themselves,” says Nancy, another Child Life Specialist at Children’s Hospital. “We want to promote a safe and positive space, and one of the ways we do this is by giving them choice and encouraging children to take an active part in their health-care experience.”

Some strategies the team uses includes:

  • Scheduling a visit to help the child become familiar with the clinic space in advance of their appointment;
  • Using medical play and rehearsing the steps to the procedure so the child knows what to expect;
  • Offering developmentally appropriate education to help build trust;
  • Developing individualized coping plans and teaching coping strategies, such as deep breathing and other relaxation techniques;
  • Providing distractions like virtual reality goggles, books, fidget toys and video games;
  • Offering numbing cream and comfort positioning for pain management;
  • Providing longer appointment times; and
  • Administering the vaccine in a non-clinical environment if the child finds exam rooms triggering.

The clinic began as a pilot project offering COVID-19 vaccinations in 2021. Today, it has received permanent funding and expanded to include all OHIP-covered vaccines. A referral is required, but parents and caregivers are welcome to self-refer their child if they prefer not to go through a primary care provider.

In the coming weeks, the clinic will also begin administering travel and other non-OHIP-covered vaccines.

“The idea is that if we can create a positive experience for our young patients, they will be less likely to avoid medical appointments and procedures that are important for their health in the future,” says Ethier. “Our ultimate goal is to help them gain the confidence and skills they need to optimize their health in the long run.”

For more information, including how to book an appointment for your child, please visit the Paediatric Vaccination Clinic webpage