How 7 people conquered their needle phobia and got vaccinated against Covid-19

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  • A needle phobia can turn an important procedure, like getting vaccinated, into an ordeal. 
  • However, there are ways to overcome one's anxiety and go through with the procedure.
  • Seven people told Health24 how they got their fears under control and got the jab.

No one likes injections, but some people will avoid them at all costs. The thought of a simple procedure involving a needle prick into the skin can induce feelings of anxiety, a rapid heart rate, sweating, dizziness, a drop in blood pressure, and in some instances, even fainting. 

The rollout of the Covid-19 vaccines worldwide quickly made it clear that an extreme fear of needles, also known as trypanophobia, would be one of the main reasons contributing to vaccine hesitancy. It is thought to affect around one in 10 people, according to the UK National Health Service (NHS)

Unfortunately, the current Covid-19 vaccines are all only available in an injectable form. While clinical trials to test an oral or nasal spray are underway, it may take a long time before these become available to the public.

Countering the fear of getting vaccinated is no easy task, but it can be done. Health24 asked seven people what they did to conquer their fear and get the jab. Here’s what they said:

Lisa van Zuydam

I had my phone with a photo of my four-month-old son in front of me when I got my Covid vaccination, and reminded myself constantly that I was facing my fears not only to protect myself, but also my son as I am a breastfeeding mom. I just kept one sentence in my mind throughout the process:

It's going to be just three seconds of facing my fear for the privilege of not only protecting myself, but also my loved ones.

I honestly didn't feel the injection and it helped me to watch others be vaccinated, so that I knew what to expect.

Kelly-Ann Van Der Meer

Having the vaccine for me was a big step – I cry with needles and normally sweat. This time, however, I felt that there was a greater purpose and a sense of community in having it done, which made it all easier – so much so that I took a photo. I did scream during my vaccination though.

Kazia Luterek

I have been absolutely terrified of needles all my life. I avoid any procedures that involve needles as far as I possibly can. 

I dreaded the day that vaccines in the form of injections got rolled out in South Africa. Since the first talks about Covid vaccines, I followed the news for vaccines in the form of pills and had high hopes for the development of these.

As friends and family around me started getting vaccinated, I would ask them about their experiences – all of which were very positive.

The hope of Covid vaccines in the form of pills quickly waned as I realised that this might never happen.

I also realised might get infected with Covid (again) during the wait. I came to the realisation that getting hospitalised with Covid would result in having blood drawn, a drip put in, etc. – which would mean many, many more encounters with needles. So I decided to rather endure three seconds of vaccination and protect myself "now".

I didn't sleep at all for the week before my vaccine. I got my first Pfizer shot on 15 September 2021 and didn't feel the needle at all, only the lady pinching my arm. Afterwards, I burst into tears of relief. I trust that my second shot will also be a seamless and positive experience.

Tips: It helped me to ask friends and family questions about their vaccine experience (avoid asking strangers who might lie to you and make you even more nervous). I also watched some videos of people getting vaccinated in order to see how thin the needle was and how quickly the jab was administered to feel comfortable with the procedure.

Neshica Naidu

I was super scared of the needle. Here’s how I overcame it: 

1. I looked for a vaccine site that was near me and had good reviews. (I used KnoNow to pick the best site near me.)

2. I told the nurse that I was terrified. 

3. I looked away during the procedure. 

4. The nurse was very sweet and kind, and as she knew I was scared; she spoke to me the entire time to distract me so I wouldn’t feel a thing – and I didn’t.

5. I submitted a positive review on KnoNow to help others choose the best site for them and hopefully also get over their needle phobia.

Cindy Van Der Vorst

I am crazy terrified of needles – you can ask my GP. But I don’t want Covid again, and I don’t want to unknowingly pass it on to someone who may die. I also want to travel again to see my family. Debbie Rossi and her team at Clicks Table Bay were amazing. The vaccination wasn’t painless, but it was in my dominant arm at my request, so I can’t complain.

Caroline Taylor

1. Speak up. Please tell the nurse when you arrive. You can ask to lie down if you need to. Look away.

2. I had headphones in and listened to a stand-up comedian, so it drowned out any "noise".

3. Eat something before you get there. I know it’s hard, but try having a glass of fruit juice with a pinch of salt.

4. Set up a "reward" afterwards to look forward to: a pedicure, coffee at a fancy café, or buying yourself something – something you wouldn’t ordinarily do.

5. Smell is important to me, so I put a drop of lavender on my face mask.

6. Relax. Slouch in the chair. The more relaxed you are, the less you’ll feel the jab.

Remember, a little courage goes a long way.

Thangam Shastivarathan

I have always had an irrational fear of needles and it has had a negative impact on how I address my health issues. I am keenly aware that a single blood test provides a wealth of information about the state of my health, yet I would rather suffer through aches and pains that last for days so to avoid the dreaded blood test. 

When the Covid vaccine was being worked on by scientists around the world, I was both grateful and fearful.

I was grateful for the efforts to eradicate a virus that has claimed millions of lives, and fearful of the day I would need to get that vaccine to save my own. When the vaccine rollout for my age group was announced in South Africa, I started Googling articles on how to overcome a fear of needles. 

While members of my family registered for the vaccine and “walked-in” to facilities to get their shot, my research was focused on how thin (or thick) the needle was; on whether the needle would bend if administered incorrectly; and on how many seconds it would take to actually administer the shot. I figured that having knowledge of the logistics would prepare me.

But the intense Googling sessions only heightened my anxiety. And while I was figuring out how to deal with my fear of needles, I just woke up one morning and decided to get the vaccine that day. It was “strength” that came from nowhere. 

I have now had both my vaccines and on each drive to the vaccination site, I reminded myself of the millions of people to whom the vaccine was denied and the millions more who died because they didn’t have the opportunity I had. I am still very fearful of needles and a visit to the doctor is always filled with anxiety. However, the benefits far outweigh any pain that I may feel. Getting over the fear is a process – and I have started the journey.

*For more Covid-19 research, science, and news, click here. You can also sign up for our Daily Dose newsletter here.

READ | Dealing with needle phobia and why our stomachs are the reason why we have injectable vaccines

READ | Over half of adults unvaccinated for Covid-19 fear needles – here’s what’s proven to help

READ | Covid-19: Looking ahead to the next wave - experts discuss vaccines, variants and lockdown

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