I am no anti-vaxxer, BUT...



Pssst kids. Get the lollipop first.


Now that the CDC has approved a covid-19 vaccine for children between the ages of five and 11, parents are making plans to take their children to pediatricians, health clinics and pharmacies to get protection against the virus.

But how do you persuade children – some of whom may have been influenced by their pre-adolescent sandbox conspiracy theorists – to get the shot?

Among the playground unfounded rumors? “I hear it’ll make you like broccoli.”


Prior to the approval, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, about three in ten parents of 5-11 year-olds (27%) were eager to get a vaccine for their younger child as soon as one was authorized, while a third said they would wait a while to see how the vaccine is working. Three in ten parents said they would definitely not get the vaccine for their 12-17 year-old (31%) or their 5-11 year-old (30%).


A recent TV news feature on a Cary drug store dredged up painful personal memories when it reported that the pharmacy has a big bowl of lollipops as a reward to children who accept the vaccine without throwing a hissy fit.

Sounds good, but pardon my skepticism: that’s exactly how they got me.



For those of us of a certain age, in order to attend public school in first grade you first had to get inoculated, so a week before starting school a bunch of us kids piled onto the back of Mr. John Bostic’s pickup truck and he drove us to the Rockingham Health Department.

The nurse, sensing my hesitancy, promised that if I didn’t scream, she’d give me a lollipop. Now, at that age for a lollipop I’d have done pretty much anything – up to and including snatching that syringe from her and jabbing myself.


Who am I kidding?

I’d do that now for the right lollipop.


She pushed up my sleeve, wiped my arm with alcohol and plunged the needle into my tender six-year-old skin. I opened my mouth as wide as it would go and tried to scream, but my vocal chords were paralyzed either by fear of the needle or fear of not getting a piece of candy.

Regardless of why, no sound came out.

Imagine a prepubescent version of Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream, because when I opened my mouth I saw other kids and their parents in the room jamming their fingers into their ears.

When it was all over, the nurse pulled down my sleeve and motioned for the next kid.

That's when I first discovered what's meant by the carrot-and-stick approach: they promise you a carrot, then stick you.

I don't recall thinking this then, but I sure think it now: I should've gotten the lollipop first.


That’s why, on behalf of kids who might be enticed by the lollipop promise, I called that Cary pharmacy.

Me: Hello, are y’all really giving kids who bravely accept the vaccine a lollipop like it said on television or is that just false advertising to make kids compliant?

Them: Click.

I started to call back, but decided against it. Better to just warn kids ahead of time and let them know that sometimes you get a lollipop - and sometimes you get played for a sucker.




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Meet Barry Saunders

For over 20 years, Barry was a columnist for The News & Observer in Raleigh, NC. He also wrote for other publications, such as the Atlanta Constitution and the Richmond County Daily Journal. Often described as powerfully honest and illustratively funny, Barry's writing is both loved and hated by readers- sometimes simultaneously.  

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Want more? Get your own copy of one of Barry's published books featuring reader favorites (and not so favorites) from his years writing columns for The News & Observer. Titled "Do Unto Others...And then Run" and "...And The Horse You Rode In On Saunders!", they're full of guaranteed entertainment. 

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