Ollie the dog helps U.S. kids with vaccine hesitancy one jab at a time

SAN DIEGO, Nov 16 (Reuters) – There’s no hesitation in getting a vaccine like that of a 9-year-old girl staring at the glint of a hypodermic needle.

And there is no cure like Ollie, a 6-year-old Goldendoodle therapy dog, who helps kids at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego overcome the fear associated with a COVID-19 vaccine.

Ollie and 14 other dogs in the PetSmart Paws for Hope dog therapy program have been helping children ages 5-11 since they were eligible for the vaccine earlier this month.

In the United States, adults resist being shot out of suspicion resulting from the rapid adoption of vaccines, questions about possible side effects, or, in many cases, fear fueled by false rumors. Children are just afraid that it will hurt.

The anticipation of a stab at Rady’s vaccination clinic brought 9-year-old Avery Smith to tears. Then Ollie came in and sat at her feet. Avery’s mother, Kelli Donahue, took a picture of her with the dog and Avery’s sister, Olive, age 6.

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

Before the vaccination, the dogs already had a job that gave pleasure to patients admitted to the children’s hospital. Many of them battled cancer or other diseases that can affect the morale of patients, their parents, and hospital staff.

“Sometimes parents say, ‘He’s asleep from his surgery, but can I pet the dog?'” Said Ollie’s owner Kristin Gist, 75, a volunteer canine therapist and former director of hospital programs. “You can really cuddle the dog and feel better too.”

When the COVID restrictions hit early last year, around 20,000 dog visits were halted annually. You started again about three months ago.

“It was nothing. It was quiet. The kids were bored,” said Carlos Delgado, a hospital spokesman. “So, thank goodness we were able to start bringing the program back. Even a three-minute visit with a dog makes a difference for the day.”

Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Donna Bryson and Lisa Shumaker

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