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“It would be heartbreaking for me if the fear of needles stopped someone from getting this vaccine because there are things we can do to help ease it,” said Dr. Nipunie S. Rajapakse, an infectious disease expert at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
A University of Michigan study found that 16 percent of adults from multiple countries avoided annual flu shots and 20 percent avoided tetanus shots for fear of needles.
Mary Rogers, a retired professor at the University of Michigan and one of the study’s authors, said it was too early to know if a similar number of people would be without the Covid-19 vaccine. However, that fear tends to subside as people get older – which is worrying given that the number of coronavirus cases have been caused by young people who are more likely to develop a phobia.
Experts say that whether fear is keeping you from getting the vaccine or just distressing you is a problem that can be overcome. Here are the steps they suggest.
Seek professional help to overcome the phobia.
A therapist can help people with the most severe fears by using some of the techniques that will help people overcome other fears that can affect their lives.
“When we are really concerned about a fear, it goes to the point where it bothers the person receiving adequate medical care or causes the person to get the flu shot or the vaccine. But they’re sick for a month and thinking about getting it, ”said Dianne Chambless, a retired professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.
For other phobias, professionals often recommend slowly exposing yourself to fear, like someone who is afraid of heights and gradually spends more time on a balcony. However, this is more difficult with needles as shots are rare and easy to avoid.
Dr. Chambless suggested working on your comfort by looking at photos of needles and syringes first, then photos of someone taking a picture, and editing videos. But a therapist can offer a more comprehensive plan.
If you can’t see a therapist, self-help books on overcoming phobias might be a faster option, she said.
Before you get the shot, tell the nurse about your fears.
There may be techniques they can use or products available to help relieve the pain or be more patient, said Dr. Rajapakse.
March 20, 2021, 8:52 p.m. ET
If it would be helpful to have someone with you to assist, some vaccination centers might allow it, but you would need to ask beforehand.
Some people’s fears can be so severe that they may faint. If so, the nurse may be able to deliver the shot lying down or otherwise help reduce the risk, said Dr. Rajapakse.
If fainting is a risk and you feel light-headed, Dr. Chambless involves tensing the muscles of your body to push blood pressure to the head.
It will all be over in seconds, and a distraction can help you get through.
It could be a YouTube video on your phone or it could be your favorite song. You can practice deep breathing or meditative techniques or wiggle your toes or look around and count all the blue objects you can see in the room.
Many people choose not to look directly at the needle. You don’t have to see it.
“Take your attention away from what’s going on,” said Dr. Rajapakse.
Focus on the benefits.
For some people, the nervous anticipation of the shot is almost as bad as the pinch itself.
In the case of the Covid-19 vaccine, however, there is much to be expected if the vaccine manages to allow a return to normal. Dr. Rajapakse said when she got her first dose, “I personally felt more optimistic and excited than nervous.”
“With that in mind, you may find this a little less nervous,” she said.
The media can do its part by showing fewer pictures of people feeling uncomfortable while a needle penetrates their skin, which can worsen feelings of anxiety, said Dr. Rajapakse.
A good countermeasure is all of the positive photos popping up on social media of people holding their vaccination cards, she said. (Just be careful with how much information you share.) The more selfies, stickers, and grateful posts people see, the more likely they are to associate the vaccine with positive feelings, she said.