Most people aren’t particularly fond of needles.
But to a significant number of people, the fear of needles goes beyond merely inducing anxiety into a more dangerous area, in which the fear prevents them from seeking out needed medical care.
And as the world’s hopes of returning to a post-pandemic normal rest largely on people’s willingness to take a Covid-19 vaccine, experts and health care professionals are assuring those people that there are ways to overcome this fear.
“It would be heartbreaking to me if a fear of needles held someone back from getting this vaccine, because there are things we can do to alleviate that,” said Dr. Nipunie S. Rajapakse, an infectious diseases expert at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
A study from the University of Michigan found that 16 percent of adults from several countries avoided annual flu vaccinations because of a fear of needles, and 20 percent avoided tetanus shots.
Mary Rogers, a retired University of Michigan professor 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 Covid-19 vaccine. But that fear tends to lessen as people age — which is concerning since surges of coronavirus cases have been driven by young people, who are more likely to have the phobia.
Experts say it is a problem that can be overcome, whether the fear is keeping you from getting the vaccine or just causing you distress. Here are the steps they suggest taking.
Seek professional help to conquer the phobia.
A therapist can help people with the most severe fears, using some of the techniques that help people conquer other fears that can affect their lives.
“When we really are worried about a fear is when it gets to the point that it is interfering with the person getting appropriate medical care, or is causing the person such distress that yes, they go ahead and get a flu shot or the vaccine, but they’re sick for a month thinking about getting it,” said Dianne Chambless, a retired professor of psychology from the University of Pennsylvania.
With other phobias, professionals will often recommend slowly exposing yourself to the fear, like someone afraid of heights spending gradually more time on a balcony. But that’s harder to do with needles, since shots are infrequent and easily avoided.
Dr. Chambless suggested working on your comfort levels by first looking at photos of needles and syringes, then photos of someone getting a shot, and working up to videos. But a therapist can offer a fuller plan.
If you can’t see a therapist, self-help books on overcoming phobias could be a quicker option, she said.
Tell the nurse about your fears before getting the shot.
There may be techniques they can use, or products available, to reduce the pain or be more patient, Dr. Rajapakse said.
If it would help to have someone with you for support, some vaccination centers may allow it, but you would have to ask ahead of time.
Some people’s fears may be so severe that they’re at risk of fainting. If that’s the case, the nurse may be able to administer the shot with you lying down, or otherwise help reduce the risk, Dr. Rajapakse said.