Helpful tips for getting the COVID-19 vaccine even if you’re afraid of needles

Is a fear of needles preventing you or a loved one from getting a COVID-19 vaccine? You are not alone. Scientists estimate that as many as 25 percent of Americans suffer from trypanophobia, a fear of blood or needles.  

Fear of needles prevents millions of people from getting the care they need to live long, healthy lives. As many as 16 percent of people in the U.S. don’t get a yearly flu vaccination because they dread getting a shot – even though the flu kills about 36,000 people in the U.S. every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  

Needle phobia is thought to be both genetic and acquired. It is often formed during a traumatic injection experience in childhood between the ages of 4 and 6, according to Amy Baxter, associate professor at Medical College of Georgia in Augusta and her research team. While the fear declines for many as they get older, it can persist throughout adulthood.  

Fear  of needles may cause anxiety, panic attacks, sweats or nausea when you think about getting a COVID-19 vaccination. It can also cause insomnia for days or weeks in anticipation of being vaccinated.  

Fear of needles is challenging to overcome, but personal health and that of our community’s is at stake. In Oregon more than 80 percent of cases in the recent COVID-19 surge have been in the unvaccinated. The vaccines remain highly effective against the now predominant Delta variant. Nationwide, vaccinated people have accounted for only three percent of hospitalizations and less than one percent of deaths in recent months.  

These kinds of numbers are a great motivation to get vaccinated. What else can be done to alleviate a fear of needles? 

  • Bring support for your vaccination. Hold the hand of your spouse, family member, friend, or clinical staff member to help keep calm. 
  • Use distraction. Listen to music in headphones or focus on anything other than the shot. Have a casual conversation with the vaccinator.     
  • Inform the vaccinator about your concerns. Many vaccinators have given thousands of shots. You are not the first patient to be apprehensive about receiving the vaccine.  
  • Look away. There is no reason to watch the injection.   
  • Relax the muscle. This can reduce the pain.   
  • Lay down if you have fainted or felt dizzy when receiving injections in the past.  
  • Therapy is an option. Mental health specialists can help provide strategies to cope with anxiety surrounding your vaccination.  

If you do not like thinking about needles, remember you are not alone. Talk to your doctor about the tools available to make your vaccination process a positive experience — to protect yourself and your loved ones against COVID-19.