NOVATO, Calif. - As Bay Area counties launch COVID-19 vaccination clinics for younger children, some are tailoring them to be child-friendly and ease anxiety.
"We've got 10,000 band-aids, 10,000 stickers, 10,000 packs of crayons," said parent and volunteer Cathy Taylor, who is organizing a welcoming environment for kids at Marin County public health clinics.
"Kids aren't little adults, they need to be happy, they're scared," added Taylor.
Piled up in a county office are cases of items Taylor has procured through friends and fundraising.
Children will be offered a crown to wear, a squeeze toy to hold, and a bubble gun since they can't blow bubbles wearing a mask.
"It's all about distracting, it makes a huge difference for the kids, they need something else to think about," said Taylor, who formerly performed ultrasound on ailing children at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital.
Marin had an unpublicized soft launch for pre-12 children at a grocery store location on Wednesday, but will begin its big push this weekend with a "superpod" site, Miller Creek Middle School in San Rafael.
As many as 1000 appointments are available on both Saturday and Sunday.
Arriving families will be greeted by life-sized cardboard cutouts of some of their favorites celebrities from sports and entertainment, including characters from Star Wars, the Minions, and Harry Potter.
"They'll have movies playing and music playing, we'll have all these heroes lined up, a great photo-op for them," enthused Taylor.
"Everyone talks about the sugar pill and the polio vaccine, and for kids, this is the end of their COVID."
Because two doses are needed 3 weeks apart, a positive first experience will make the second round even easier.
"Crying can be contagious, one starts and more follow," said Marin County public health nurse Dawn Weathersby, who is the county's vaccine chief.
Steps away from the toy stockpile, Weathersby is drawing up plans for clinics at school and community sites.
"We're going to be using physical barriers between the children so they can't see each other getting vaccinated and they can't see the shot," described Weathersby.
Marin County has about 20,000 children in the 5-11 age group.
The goal is to have shots in 75 percent of them by the end of November, and fully protected by winter break next month.
Weathersby said children over age 12 had the maturity to understand the vaccination more fully than the younger ones.
"They were a more stoic group, and they also realized vaccination was the way to help get them back into activities, birthday parties, and gatherings."
With the younger set, it may boil down to a treat offered at an opportune time.
"We had a little girl very upset getting her shot but she stopped crying when we showed her the snack bag and you could tell she was thinking, this might be worth it," smiled Weathersby.
To keep the mood light at clinics, staff will be assigned as "distractors" to ask some well-timed questions.
"Like, 'do you have any brothers or sisters, or when is your birthday, or what were you for Halloween?" explained Weathersby.
Children will also be offered crayons and a Covid19 activity sheet to color during the 15 minutes they are under observation after their shot.
Taylor expects it will be something many parents save.
"It's historical, the end of COVID for these kids, my son has lived so much of his life with COVID limitations and I want him to know he made it, and didn't do it for nothing."
Taylor became an advocate for child-centered medicine when he son was rushed to a hospital emergency room that lacked pediatric -specific training. or protocols.
She has since lobbied successfully for health care facilities and emergency first-responders to adopt such principles and practices.
Taylor's non-profit organization and Facebook page, "Ouchless E-R Project", offers vaccination tips and a planner for parents and children to work on prior to the appointment.
"That way, we can treat each child individually and each parent can step into it individually too."
As for her own young son?
A favorite piece of candy, rarely permitted, has been purchased as his reward.
"Right now all he cares about is that candy, he doesn't care about the shot, and that's the power of distraction!" said Taylor.