Francine and the Vaccine: Easing Kids' Fears About COVID Vaccines

Marie DeFreitas

December 10, 2021

As more and more children are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, one healthcare professional and mother is embracing the questions she knows they will inevitably have.

Nicole Peterson, PA-C, a physician assistant at Carle Foundation Hospital's emergency department in Urbana, Illinois, is providing answers to tough questions with her recently self-published children's book, Francine and the Vaccine.

The 30-page book, written and illustrated by Peterson, tells the story of a young girl named Francine who's about to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and feels empowered by knowing that she's doing her part in keeping herself and others healthy.

A mother of two sons, aged 3 and 5, Peterson said her oldest child had a lot of questions prior to getting vaccinated and served as the inspiration for Francine and the Vaccine.

Peterson talked with Medscape Medical News about the book.

Francine and the Vaccine helps children understand the importance of getting vaccinated.

Have you ever taken on a project like this before?

I have never taken on a project of this nature before. I have thought about writing and illustrating a children's book in the past but, over time, figured it was just a pipe dream. It was not until I had the idea for Francine and the Vaccine that I had the proper motivation to make it a reality. My experience working in the emergency department has been a driving factor in my passion to educate patients on the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine, and other safety measures to help prevent and decrease spread of the virus. Undertaking this project felt like the perfect fit.

Was it stressful to balance your job with working on the book?

It was challenging at times to manage work, being a mother and wife, and finding time to work on the book. I found that I was able to be most productive after my children went to bed and often found myself staying up a little too late caught up in the project. My husband has teased me saying that he only saw the top of my head bent over my drawings while working on the project; he forgot what my face looked like.

Do you have any formal illustration training?

I took art classes in high school but have had no formal training in illustration beyond that. I used gouache paint and colored pencils for some of the illustrations in the book but the majority were done digitally using Adobe Fresco. I definitely utilized online tutorials to help navigate the illustration program as it was my first adventure with digital artwork.

"It starts with an injection, a small little twinge.
In goes the medicine through the syringe," the book reads.

How did your own children influence your approach to the book?

My husband and I spent a lot of time talking with our children about the COVID-19 virus and the importance of the vaccine. My oldest son had many questions during the process and I found that pictures worked as an adjunct in helping him understand the information we were trying to communicate.

It was through this process that I realized there may be a need for a book like Francine, [a book] that other children, families, and healthcare providers may find beneficial in their own conversations. Throughout the writing and illustrating process, I found myself reading the story aloud to my children and showing them the progress on my drawings to get their feedback. I also had the story proofread by colleagues to gain their perspective before putting the book out into the world.

Peterson's oldest child after receiving his first COVID-19 vaccine.

What was your favorite part about working on the book?

I truly enjoyed doing the illustrations. It's invigorating to let the creative juices flow and exercise talents that sometimes do not get the attention they deserve. It was also nice to be able to tie in my background in medicine and create an end product that will hopefully be useful from a patient education standpoint.

Fun, vibrant illustrations help to engage young readers.

What are your hopes for the book?

I hope it can be a useful educational — and motivational — tool for parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and healthcare providers about the benefits and importance of the COVID-19 vaccine. Right now, the vaccines are one of our best tools (in addition to masking, handwashing, and physical distancing) in decreasing the negative effects of the SARS-CoV-2 virus on public health. We all need to do our part.

Peterson shares her labor of love with son Theo, who helped fine-tune the book along the way.

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