Needle Phobia and the Coronavirus Vaccine
“If I see the needle, I will hyperventilate,” Armand Dávila, a 49-year-old digital marketing strategist, told The Washington Post recently. “If I hear the person coming with the needle, I will hyperventilate. Literally, just looking at a needle makes my blood run cold.”
Believe it or not, some of our primary care doctors in Delray Beach aren’t all that fond of needles, either. But they’re a regular part of our working lives, so we’ve gotten used to them to the point that they don’t bother us. And we certainly don’t have the type of reaction described by the unfortunate gentleman quoted above.
But we’ve seen enough needle phobias in our patients to know that it’s a real thing, and can be debilitating. And—especially when it comes to the coronavirus vaccine—it could be a matter of life and death.
One recent survey found that 52 percent of those who still had not received a coronavirus vaccine reported moderate to severe needle fear.
Hard to explain
Like any phobia, a fear of needles is incomprehensible to those who don’t have it.
“It’s hard to explain to somebody who doesn’t have this phobia,” Dávila said. “Just talking about this I’m breaking out into a cold sweat,” he told the reporter during their interview.
“I definitely think you’re going to see a group of people who will stay away [from the coronavirus vaccine] and really maintain their fear,” Bonnie Zucker, a Rockville, Maryland, psychologist, told The Post.
Zucker specializes in anxiety conditions, including needle phobia. A true needle phobia, she added, “is pretty powerful and scary.”
The important thing to know is that a fear of needles can be treated. And because the coronavirus has already killed nearly 600,000 Americans, and is continuing to mutate into even more contagious forms, it’s crucial that, if you’re afraid of needles, you try to get past that fear.
A common phobia
A fear of needles is common in all ages, with men as well as women.
The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-5) recognized it in 1994. It’s called “trypanophobia,” or the fear of injections.
“Just by me injecting a needle into one of my patients—this was a grown adult man—he passed out,” Dr. John Morrison, a primary care provider with Advent Health Wesley Chapel in Tampa, told WTSP-10. “And I probably see that once every couple of months in a grown adult.”
According to Psychology Today, “Needle phobia is real . . . and the symptoms can make getting a shot extremely uncomfortable. These range from mild to severe and can include dizziness, fainting, anxiety, insomnia, panic attacks, increased blood pressure, fast heart rate, and avoidance. Just the thought of getting a shot can bring on symptoms in some people.”
Considered one of the top 10 fears, it’s estimated to affect 50 million Americans, and can cause people to avoid necessary medical attention. In the case of the coronavirus vaccine, it could cost you a great deal of pain and suffering—and possibly even your life.
Things that don’t help
As many people as possible must receive the coronavirus vaccine to protect themselves individually and protect the population as a whole and stop the rampant virus mutations.
But for those who have a needle phobia, whether it’s mild or severe, one thing that doesn’t help is ridicule and scorn. Adults who have had a fear of needles since childhood are already embarrassed by their phobia.
“Being kind of dismissive or joking about needle fear is likely, not helpful,” Meghan McMurtry, an associate professor of clinical psychology at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, told Time magazine. “It can feel very invalidating for the individual,” she said.
However, avoidance is also not helpful either for reining in the pandemic or for one’s overall physical or mental health.
“I tell all my patients with any kind of anxiety that avoidance is actually fuel for anxiety,” Kristin Kunkle, a psychologist at the Washington Anxiety Center of Capitol Hill in D.C., told The Post. “The more you avoid something, the worse it gets.”
Tips to help
Here are some strategies psychologists recommend to help you cope with getting the vaccine.
- For several days before your appointment, practice relaxation exercises: deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or mindfulness training. Then use these before and during your appointment.
- Be sure to eat and drink water before your appointment to reduce the chances of lightheadedness or fainting.
- Let the person giving the shot know that you have a problem. They can work with you to help reduce your fear.
- Bring along a distraction: a friend, an engrossing book, or some engaging phone apps. And avoid looking at the needle. Instead, focus intently on something else in the room.
- For a severe phobia, you may need longer-term therapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which involves gradual desensitization.
It may also help to psych yourself out by telling yourself it’s just one needle, as opposed to the countless needles you’ll face in the hospital if you contract a severe case of COVID-19.
If you have a fear of needles, please let us know. We can provide anti-anxiety medication if necessary, or a skin-numbing cream or pain-blocking gels. The important thing is to get the vaccine as soon as you can.