Taking COVID-19 vaccines: what should those who fear needles do?

The challenges confronting the administration of vaccines to subdue the spread and impact of COVID-19 are many. Having have to deal with series of conspiracies surrounding the virus and its vaccines, the world is battling with people who are refusing the jab because the mention of needles sends a shiver down their spine.

It is, however, important that people with needle phobia are attended to, in order to immunise as many people as possible to attain herd immunity. Fact-Check Ghana explores in this report the advice of experts on such problems.

What is needle phobia?

Trypanophobia is the medical name for needle phobia. It’s a recognised psychiatric condition where an irrational fear of being pricked by a needle induces severe feelings of dread and anxiety. Medics say people with this condition can become aggressive when challenged because they can also develop the fear of being controlled.

The need to take a look at needle phobia

Aside from being deterred from having blood tests, becoming a blood donor, accepting blood transfusion and getting an urgent surgery, people with needle phobia can object to a range of healthcare options such as contraceptive injections, implants and vaccinations which go a long way to affect their healthcare.

University of Michigan study revealed that during the annual flu vaccination 16 per cent of adults from several countries avoided the jab because of the fear of needles whilst 20 per cent stayed out from the tetanus shots.

Speaking about the ramifications of the phobia of COVID-19 jab, Mary Rogers, a retired professor at the University of Michigan and one of the authors of the study said it was too soon to know if a similar number of people will abstain from the jab. She, however, expressed optimism towards the COVID-19 vaccine because, according to her, the fear lessens as people age.

How does one overcome needle phobia?

Experts say whether trypanophobia is causing distress or keeping one from getting a vaccine, there are means to overcome it.

  1. Before taking the shot, one should let the nurse know his/her fears. Nipunie S. Rajapakse, M.D., M.P.H., doctor and medical staff of Mayo Clinic, has said this is one of the means to reduce the pain since the nurses may have techniques, available products to use or be more patient in administering the jab.
  2. Additionally, she suggests one makes enquiry ahead of schedule to have someone present to offer support during the vaccination as some centres may give room for that.
  3. Also, Dr Rajapakse has advised those with severe phobia to lie down and take the shot since they could be at risk of fainting. She says lying down will make it easier for the nurse or otherwise help reduce the risk.
  4. Focusing on the benefits of taking a vaccine would also go a long way to curb the needle phobia people have. The nervous anticipation for some people is almost as bad as the pinch itself. But in the case of the COVID-19 vaccine, there’s a lot to look forward to if the vaccine succeeds in allowing a return to normalcy. Dr Rajapakse said that when she got her first dose her “personal feeling was one of optimism and excitement rather than feeling nervous about it.”

“Keeping that at the front of your mind can make this a little less of a nervous experience for you,” she said.

  1. One other counsel experts have provided is to distract one’s self with something within that short period. With the exercise lasting in a few seconds, a distraction can help one get through it without realising it. One can look around and start counting certain items in the room, watch a video on the phone, practice some deep-breathing or meditative techniques or wiggle the toes. Many people choose not to look directly at the needle.

“Draw your attention away from what is going on,” Dr Rajapakse said.

Dianne Chambless, a retired professor of psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, also suggests working on one’s comfort levels by familiarising the self with the phobia. She says one could start by looking at photos of needles and syringes, then photos of someone getting a shot, and upgrading it to videos. She, however, notes a therapist can offer a fuller plan. Reading self-help books on how to overcome phobias, she indicated, could also be an option.

This report is produced under the project: COVID-19 Response in Africa: Together for Reliable Information being implemented with funding support from the European Union.

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