How to take sting out of flu shot (sorry, kids, FluMist not an option)


Local pediatric emergency doctor Amy Baxter came up with Buzzy, a reusable product relying on cold and vibrations to make needle shots less painful and frightening. The cold pack wings and buzzing body lessen how much patients feel the prick of the needle. In a 2014 story published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Baxter talks about how a personal experience led to her tinkering to create a product to cut pain and fear tied to needles.

When my kid went to get his four-year-old shot, I knew the textbook answers for what I should do to make his shots be better. At the doctor’s office all the things that I had prepared didn’t help the fact that the nurse said, “You are going to sit there and be still or this is really going to hurt.” She just whaled in, jabbing on my kid to give him his shots. He became so afraid of needles that he would get nauseated whenever we had to go to the doctor. I started doing more research into the fear of needles and realized it doesn’t go away by itself. Not only is it a stigma in our society, but it ends up with people not going to the doctor when they are older. Things get diagnosed much later in people who are afraid of needles than in people who aren’t.

An early attempt combined a personal massager — certain vibrations can have a numbing effect — with frozen peas, a pain-reducing trick her husband had learned in the Boy Scouts. She and her kids took apart old cellphones donated by neighbors, looking for ways to use the mechanisms that allowed the phones to vibrate. She tested her inventions on herself, her kids and her neighbors, using toothpicks instead of needles.

She landed a $1.1 million grant from the government's National Institutes of Health to help with research and development. Later, she took her product to medical industry trade shows to get health care workers interested. Then hospitals bought in, followed by patients who heard about Buzzy from doctors and then bought from the company's website. The basic product sells for $39.95.

A growing number of pediatricians and doctors offices are using it, including Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta outpatient labs.

— An excerpt from a feature written by Matt Kempner. Read the full article at

Parents and children may be in for a surprise when it comes to getting a flu shot this fall. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced it does not recommend the nasal spray flu vaccine (FluMist) in the 2016-2017 flu season.

The decision was based on studies finding the nasal spray vaccine performed poorly compared to the standard flu shot during the past three years, according to the CDC.

With FluMist a favorite for needle-phobic kids, parents have no choice this year but to go with a traditional flu shot. The CDC recommends the flu vaccine for people 6 months and older. 

Dr. Mark Kishel, a longtime pediatrician and a senior clinical officer for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia, said while there is an aversion to needles in everyone, and the nasal vaccine had been recommended for children over the age of 2, evidence now shows that the nasal vaccine does not work at all.

Pediatricians everywhere will use various techniques to help children relax and make the flu shot immunization process as painless as possible. One new technique Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, is using this flu season is a “bee” that has cold pack wings and a buzzing body that attaches to a child’s arm and helps take the sting out of getting a shot. It’s a product developed by an Atlanta pediatric emergency doctor, Dr. Amy Baxter. (See sidebar for more on the product.)

Dr. Melissa Winterhalter, a pediatrician at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, said younger children ages 2-6 getting flu shots also respond well to distraction techniques: videos, singing, music, toys, tablets and bubbles.

Older children, she said, respond well to an explanation about the importance of the flu shot and relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and talking about a favorite place. Older kids, she said, often like to choose which arm to use for the shot.

Meanwhile, Kishel said he recommends the following five tips from the CDC for helping take a little one’s mind off the sting from a traditional flu shot, as well as strategies for older kids who have an aversion to needles:

  • Pack a favorite toy or book, and a blanket that your child uses regularly to comfort your child.
  • Be honest with your child. Explain that shots can pinch or sting, but that it won't hurt for long.
  • Engage other family members, especially older siblings, to support your child.
  • Avoid telling scary stories or making threats about shots.
  • Remind children that vaccines can keep them healthy.

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