This is tip five in a series from pediatrician Dr. Ray Fabius for families on maintaining health and wellness at home or on the front lines. Find more tips and actionable advice on our Dr. Ray resource page.
A tip for explaining illness and recovery to kids
First, a note that this explanation might be more easily understood by older, school-age children. Always talk to your children in language they will understand. Be honest and truthful. Be supportive and empathetic. Give them a chance to absorb information and ask questions along the way. If you’re teaching at home, you might find these resources useful for your very own science class!
Here is some language I’d suggest using when explaining the current health emergency to older children. The coronavirus is too small to see, but if it gets in your body, it may cause you to have a fever and a bad cough. Older people like your grandparents can get very sick from this virus. That’s why it’s important to listen to your parents and follow their rules like good handwashing and not leaving the house without permission.
Each day that we follow the CDC’s recommendations, we give scientists and doctors another day to find a medicine or develop a vaccine to treat the virus that is making many people sick. While we’re home, scientists and doctors around the world are working hard on medicines to help people get better.
How scientists make medicines
To find a medicine that works, scientists will first try medicines we currently use to fight other illnesses to see if any will work against the coronavirus. Meanwhile, scientists and doctors wearing lots of protection test chemicals in laboratories to see if they can find something that can kill the virus. If they find something, they will test the medicine on animals like mice first to see if the medicine works for them.
If it works, the scientist will then try it on healthy humans to see if it’s safe. If the medicine is safe, they will then try it on sick people. If the medicine makes them better, pharmaceutical companies can begin to make large quantities to send to drug stores and doctors to give to their sick patients.
How scientists make vaccines
Scientists and doctors are also working on vaccines to help us fight off the virus if it enters our body in the future. To make a vaccine, first they identify the virus that is causing the illness and find ways to weaken it.
Sometimes when you give a very weak form of a virus to people, their body can make something called “antibodies” to protect us from the stronger version without us getting sick. That’s how a vaccine works. Researchers will try new vaccines on animals first, such as mice, to see if they can produce antibodies to the virus without getting sick.
If they do, the same vaccines can be tried on humans. If they work on a few thousand people in a test or trial, they are approved for everyone. At that point they are sent to pharmacies and doctors to give to children and adults like us. Then our bodies are prepared to protect us against the virus in the future.
Educational activities to help children understand
A note that these activities might best be enjoyed by school-age children.
- Draw a timeline of how a medicine or vaccine is made.
- Study the history of medicine from the production of aspirin to the present day. When and where were some common medicines we use today developed, like for flu or cold?
- Study the history of vaccines like smallpox or flu vaccines. Emphasize how effective they are, and that with time, researchers and doctors should be able to develop one to fight COVID-19.
Resources to learn more about this topic
Here are few good resources for developing a lesson plan for learning about vaccines and medicine: