There is no vaccine hesitancy like that of a 9-year-old girl staring down the glint of a hypodermic needle.
And there is no remedy quite like Ollie, a 6-year-old goldendoodle therapy dog who is helping kids at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego overcome the anxiety associated with getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
Ollie and 14 other dogs of the PetSmart Paws for Hope Canine Therapy Program have been helping kids age 5 to 11 ever since they became eligible for the vaccine earlier this month.
Across the United States, adults who subscribe to wild conspiracy theories are resisting the vaccine. Kids are just scared it’s going to hurt.
“I just saw how many children were like that, they were wanting the vaccine, but they’d walk in the door and think about a needle and just fall apart. And so in every little station, you could almost always find a child that was really, really upset, really crying, really having to have a lot of holding. And in a couple of cases, Ollie (comfort dog) could sit right next to them and they didn’t need to be held. They were distracted by fluff next to them,” said Ollie’s owner, Kristin Gist, 75, a canine therapy volunteer and former hospital programs director.
“It helped when they were anticipating the shot. It helped when they were getting the shot and then afterward they could smile and know that they’d done it and show me their Band-Aid and get a picture of Ollie and just feel like they had accomplished something,” she added.
On a recent visit by Reuters to the Rady Children’s Hospital vaccine center, anticipation of a jab had a 9-year-old girl in tears, but then Ollie came in and sat at her feet. The child’s mother then took a picture of her with the dog at her feet and the trauma was over quickly.
Before the vaccine, the dogs already had a job bringing joy to patients admitted to the children’s hospital, many of them battling cancer or other treacherous diseases that can sap the morale of patients, their parents and hospital staff.
When COVID restrictions hit early last year, some 20,000 annual canine visits came to a halt. They restarted about three months ago.
“There was nothing. It was silent. The kids were bored,” said Carlos Delgado, a hospital spokesman. “So thank God we were able to start bringing the program back. Even a three-minute visit with a canine makes a difference for the day.”