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A "Child Life Extender" for National Immunization Month

Carolyn Schneiders Fung, CCLS
Director of National Programs
Hope for Henry

August is National Immunization Awareness Month. The back-to-school rush is upon us and kids are picking out backpacks, new shoes, and preparing to meet their teachers, and oh wait – they should be getting routine vaccinations going into the school year!

You don’t need to be a child life specialist or a mother of two to see how fearful children are of needles, but it doesn’t hurt either. I remember being a first-time expectant mom in 2018, “shopping” for pediatricians who would allow me to hold my baby for vaccinations. As the number of childhood vaccinations has increased –as many as 27 shots by age two, and up to six shots in a single visit— and my experience as a child life specialist, I knew those giving vaccinations needed more than lollipops and colorful bandages to help ease fear, improve coping, and increase vaccine compliance (CHOP, 2021) (Cleveland Clinic, 2022).

Delaying or forgoing any vaccine due to fear of needles can have major repercussions for children’s health. A survey we conducted of XXXX families has exposed the need for additional tools and resources to be made available to alleviate the stress on both parent and child during the process (UCLA, 2021). With COVID-19 bringing vaccination to the forefront of public health, resources to ease the process have become more essential than ever.

In 2021, changes were made to whom retail pharmacies (think your local grocery store or drugstore) could vaccinate. These changes allowed for kids to receive the COVID vaccination at these locations.

I work at Hope for Henry as the Director of National Programs. In early 2022, we were approached by a local retail pharmacy, Giant Grocery, which has 170+ pharmacies throughout the Mid-Atlantic. Giant was looking for a way to improve the customer experience and patient experience by educating kids on the vaccination, helping caregivers comfort the child, and recognizing the child’s accomplishment once they were vaccinated. Giant knew Hope for Henry’s Super Rewards for Super Kids designed for vaccinations had been launched within pediatrician offices, hospitals, and Washington, DC’s Department of Health.

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The Super Rewards for Super Kids for vaccinations program includes the preparation and distribution of materials featuring family-friendly graphics and language highlighting when and how to talk with children of various ages about their upcoming appointment, what to bring with them, and how to alleviate a child’s anxiety best prior and during a vaccination appointment. This program, designed by a team of child life specialists, features clear, simple explanations of each step of the vaccination process and stickers to mark patient progress; narrative maps are placed in the waiting area of vaccine sites to give kids (and their caregivers) a helpful guide of what to expect and a sense of accomplishment as they complete the processes leading up to and culminating in a successful, less stressful vaccination. Our education materials are in print, video, and now online, with digital downloads available!

The program has proven popular and practical - in just one year, it has already been distributed to 23,475 children. Its efficacy and demand indicate a massive demand in the youth population of this country for targeted, age-appropriate healthcare. The age of lollipops in the waiting area after a shot is over; it is time for scalable, heavily tested, and effective clinical interventions. The assurance that this child life-approved material is simple to read and use, plus the popularity of the program, allows it to serve as a test case equipping caregivers to prepare their child when child life is not around in pediatric patients on a large scale.

I see this program as an extension of what we do, often calling it a “child life extender,” bringing skills, expertise, and perspective to nontraditional healthcare facilities. In pediatrician offices, community health pop-ups, and pharmacies where training and resources may be scarce but children nonetheless receive care, the program provides the critical preparation that we value as child life specialists. I hope to see this program everywhere! 

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Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). (2021). Vaccine History: Developments by Year. Retrieved from

Cleveland Clinic. (2022). Childhood Immunization Schedule. Retrieved from,months%20and%2016%20years%20old.

UCLA Health. (2021). Treating Needle Anxiety Can Boost COVID-19 Vaccination Rates. Retrieved from

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