Is needle fear keeping folks from getting vaccinated for COVID?

Tracking Coronavirus

(Johnson & Johnson via AP)

ALBANY, N.Y. — Questions about necessity, side effects, misinformation, microchips and FDA approval are all connected to COVID vaccine hesitancy. But trypanophobia — the fear of needles — could be keeping as many as a quarter of the population from getting their shots.

An estimated 25% of Americans have a fear of needles, and 16% skip getting vaccines because of that fear, according to Harvard Medical School.

Sometimes trypanophobia stems from a traumatic childhood event or a past health issue. Sometimes there is no known cause, and some reactions to needles — like fainting — are linked to genetics, according to Harvard.

Rich Christ, the Rensselaer County, New York, director of communications, said nearby counties have worked to alleviate the fears of residents getting vaccinated at clinics, WTEN reports. He said he’s also noticed local news organizations steering away from showing pictures of people getting shots.

Troy resident Terence McDonnell is a Rensselaer County Reserve Medical Corps volunteer who has concerns that showing needles going into arms increases vaccine hesitancy.

“Make heroes of vaccine recipients, not victims, and it will encourage others to follow their lead,” he said in an email.

Poynter also addressed this concern at a webinar in December focused on how journalists should report on COVID. One nurse who spoke at the webinar said that showing pictures of people getting shots could prevent the fear of getting vaccinated.

Symptoms of trypanophobia

People with a fear of needles can experience anxiety, increased heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating, nausea, and insomnia. Dizziness or fainting is a response to a drop in blood pressure, says UCHealth.

There have been many reports of people getting dizzy or fainting after getting vaccinated against COVID. To rule out dizziness or fainting as a side effect of the vaccine, U.S. officials looked at the phenomenon in five states. They concluded that the reaction was a response to people’s anxiety, the Associated Press reported in April.

Fainting after getting vaccinated is most common among ages 11 to 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Teens represent 62% of all cases of fainting after vaccination.

Overcoming needle fear

The first step to overcoming a fear of needles is identifying triggers like immense pain, fainting, or bleeding, said the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). They also suggest planning ahead by writing down the facts and acting on them.

Specifically regarding getting over needle fear to get a COVID vaccine, Edward-Elmhurst Health suggests:

  • Getting help from a professional
  • Talking with a doctor about anti-anxiety medications
  • Look at positive social media posts to foster positive feelings about the vaccine
  • Practice deep breathing exercises
  • Focus on the benefits of the vaccine
  • Bring someone with you to the vaccine appointment
  • Talk to the administering nurse about any fears
  • Tense muscles or make a fist if feeling faint
  • Look away from the needle
  • Use a distraction (deep breathing, wiggling toes, etc.)

Edward-Elmhurst Health also suggests talking positively about the experience. They said that doing so could help make getting the second dose feel less stressful.

The New York State Department of Health (DOH) said COVID vaccines are the best weapon people have against becoming infected with the virus. They continue to urge all eligible New Yorkers to get vaccinated. “Individuals who are delaying their COVID-19 vaccinations due to fear of needles should consult with their doctor or trusted health care professional on best practices to mitigate their fears and get them vaccinated,” said DOH spokesperson Abigail Barker.

Over 12 million New Yorkers have gotten at least one shot of a COVID vaccine, according to the state’s vaccine tracker, with two million of those getting their first shot since the start of June. Nearly 11.1 million people are fully vaccinated.

State-run mass vaccination sites like the one in Aviation Mall have started to close as the state shifts focus to areas with low vaccination rates. New Yorkers still interested in getting vaccinated can check the state’s website for local availability or make an appointment near you.

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