COVID-19: Afraid of needles? Here’s how to overcome your fear and get vaccinated

Preparation is key, and can lend a measure of confidence and control over the proceedings

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Hugo Pollock is petrified of needles.

When he was 15, he went to get an injection and fainted afterwards. Since then, getting any needle stuck in his arm — for blood tests or travel vaccines — have been accompanied by an accelerated heart rate, cold sweats, shortness of breath, feeling lightheaded and queasy plus a desire to run far away and not come back.

But the 29-year-old Pollock, a pharmacist by training, is determined not to let his fear of needles stop him from getting a COVID-19 vaccine when it’s his turn.

“I’m definitely getting it, whether I have to lie down on the floor or get a good pep talk from my partner beforehand,” he said. “I know I have to get it.”

Pollock isn’t alone.

According to a 2012 Canadian study, 24 per cent of parents surveyed reported a fear of needles, and that fear was the reason seven per cent of them and eight per cent of kids didn’t get immunizations.

In the U.S., about a quarter of adults are afraid of needles, and about seven per cent avoid getting vaccinated because of that fear, said a 2014 report on immunization practices for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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As mass vaccination efforts continue, health-care professionals say you shouldn’t let the fear of needles delay or prevent you from getting a COVID-19 shot.

“Getting vaccinated is important,” said Dr. Manish Sadarangani, director of the Vaccine Evaluation Centre at B.C. Children’s Hospital. “We all want life to get back to normal. This is the quickest way to get out of the pandemic, by getting people vaccinated.”

For people with more severe fears or phobias, getting over the fear of needles would likely require therapy. For those with mild or moderate fears, here are some tips and techniques that could help.

Preparation is key, and can lend a measure of confidence and control over the proceedings. It could just be the basics: Have a sense of what to expect, get a good night’s sleep, have a good breakfast or lunch, suggested Sadarangani.

“The last thing you want to do is getting anxious and fainting,” he said. “You want people to be in a good state of mind.”

Helping your mind focus with deep breathing or meditative techniques could help, as can distractions. Some people listen to music, watch videos, read a book or play a game on an app. Some people may find it helpful to have someone there for support.

Also, remember that any needle pain will be brief, said Sadarangani.

At his clinic at B.C. Children’s, Sadarangani sees about 100 kids a year who have some sort of needle anxiety or fear.

At the clinic, nurses and doctors are able to spend time, sometimes hours, with children to help them prepare for a shot. There’s a toy bee that’s cold and vibrates, and when put against a child’s skin can mimic the sensation of a needle. The clinic also uses iPads, toys and virtual-reality goggles to help distract the kids. It also uses topical creams and sprays to numb the area.

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Devoting that much time to help someone overcome a needle fear or anxiety would be difficult to do in a mass immunization setting where tens of thousands of people are waiting to get vaccinated, said Sadarangani, but it’s still important to let your immunizer know what you’re dealing with.

“It’s important when they go to the clinic, to make the (immunizer) aware this is a concern,” he said. “They will do their best to keep the situation calm.”

Hugo Pollock is scared of needles, but he still plans to get the COVID-19 vaccine when it’s his turn.
Hugo Pollock is scared of needles, but he still plans to get the COVID-19 vaccine when it’s his turn. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

Fraser Health said people who have needle concerns should inform their immunizers at the beginning of the appointment.

The immunizers will be able to speak with the person, answer their questions, ensure a comfortable pace is established and use distraction techniques while administering the vaccine, it said in a statement.

If requested, onsite staff can escort people to a more private and comfortable space to receive the vaccine. They can also be accompanied by one person if they need support through the process.

Pollock, who has developed his own coping mechanisms for vaccinations and blood tests, has the following tips.

He uses noise-cancelling headphones to listen to podcasts, which he finds more soothing than music that can sometimes get his adrenalin pumping, he said. Prior to a needle appointment, he builds up his tolerance, watching YouTube videos of needles and injections to steel himself for what is to come.

Then, after the shot, he gives himself a reward, perhaps a beer or a small treat.

Despite his fears, there is no doubt he’s going to a COVID-19 vaccine, he said.

“I know I have to,” he said. “I know I will get it 100 per cent because I know how important it is. The benefit of getting it far outweighs my slightly silly squeamishness about it.”

chchan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/cherylchan

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