Therapy Animals Are Helping Kids Who Are Scared Of The COVID Vaccine

by Christina Marfice
William Campbell/Getty

With kids as young as 5 now eligible for COVID vaccines, therapy animals are helping them overcome their fear of needles to get the jab

Kids as young as 5 years old are finally eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19, since the FDA and CDC approved and recommended Pfizer shots for that younger age group. And while certain adult populations have avoided getting the jab because of mistrust and rampant misinformation about the pandemic and the vaccine, for kids, there’s a totally different reason for hesitancy: Needles are freakin’ scary. To help combat that, doctors, hospitals, and clinics across the country are turning to furry friends who can offer kids a paw to hold when they get scared of getting the shot.

Specially trained therapy dogs (and sometimes even other types of therapy animals) are being deployed across the country as kids are getting their COVID shots, and doctors say it’s the perfect thing to counteract a fear of needles.

“It was the perfect distraction,” Micaela Inglese, volunteer coordinator at John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital in Buffalo, New York, told Today. “Dog therapy … really helps ease the nerves of the children that come.”

One of those kids was Nolan Mabie, a 7-year-old from Buffalo, who had the help of a therapy pup named Chester when he received his first dose of the COVID vaccine.

“It was kind of actually a little fun getting my vaccine. We met the therapy dog Chester and I got to pet him,” Nolan said.

Nolan’s mom, Jessica Mabie, is vice president of Oishei Children’s Hospital operations. She said therapy dogs are vital in helping more kids get vaccinated against COVID-19 because they provide a distraction, a calming presence, and just a whole lot of love. Having therapy dogs in the waiting room helps eliminate one of the trickiest parts about vaccines for kids, she said: the anticipation that builds up into nerves and fear.

“The environment was just so much friendlier, people were so much more at ease,” Mabie said. “You could tell, you know, there were some nerves from the kiddos that were waiting, but by having the dogs there… we could focus on the dog instead of the shot.”

Pet therapy programs are certainly not limited to New York. They’ve been popping up in Washington, D.C., Massachusetts, Texas, Colorado, and San Diego, where Ollie the therapy dog was recently the subject of a news article for his hard work helping kids get their COVID shots. Ollie was there for 9-year-old Avery Smith when anticipation about the vaccine had her in tears at a San Diego clinic.

“It helped me because I never had a COVID vaccine before and I didn’t know what it felt like,” Avery said. “But when I saw the dog it helped me calm down.”