Overcoming vaccine hesitancy: ‘So many rumours were going around, plus I’m petrified of needles'

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  • Sharifa Sungay had a range of concerns about getting vaccinated against Covid-19.
  • She was headstrong in her decision to not take the jab, but two months after registration opened for her age group, she changed her mind.
  • She is now fully vaccinated, and has convinced others to do the same. 

For many people who are unsure about getting the Covid-19 vaccine, there is typically one specific reason that supports their hesitancy. But for Sharifa Sungay, it was an assortment of concerns.

“There were so many rumours going around saying that it’s not a good vaccine; that it wasn’t going to help; and that there were animal products in it. At the end of the day, I decided not to get it,” the 60-year-old told Health24. 

“I was also very hesitant in the beginning because I’m a chronic patient – I’ve got high blood pressure and I’m diabetic as well. And I heard stories of people going for their vaccination and having bad side effects a few days later.”

‘Petrified of needles’

Sharifa is also “petrified” of needles – another hurdle that stood in the way of her getting vaccinated. “I freak out when I see a needle,” she said.

An extreme fear of needles, known as trypanophobia, has commonly been cited as a reason for keeping some people from getting jabbed. One study revealed that people who are afraid of needles were twice as likely to be vaccine-hesitant, GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance reported in June 2021.

Five sisters – all hesitant

Sharifa has four sisters with whom she has a very close relationship.

“We always confide in each other and ask each other for advice,” she said, adding: “I spoke to my one sister who also has chronic illness, and said I’m not going to go for the vaccination because I don’t think it’s the right thing for me.”

Then, suddenly one evening, Sharifa was in bed and a thought crossed her mind: “I realised that death is a normal part of life, and if it is destined for me to die, I can’t stop it.” 

She informed her daughter the next morning about her change of mind. But her daughter wasn’t keen on her decision, as she told Sharifa she knew of someone who’d been vaccinated and died three days later. It turned out that the person had had Covid and sadly succumbed to his infection.

“He also had underlying illness,” said Sharifa – a risk factor for Covid-related severe disease and death. 

Registering for the jab

Sharifa went onto the EVDS portal, registered herself to get vaccinated and eagerly awaited the big day. At this point, registration for people over 60 years old had been open for more than two months. 

“I took some time to decide to get vaccinated. At the end of the day, it was my decision to make,” she said. 

She received her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on 1 July at False Bay Hospital in Muizenberg, and even managed to conquer her needle phobia. “I was brave, and I was perfectly fine after receiving the vaccine. I didn’t have any side effects.”

Later, she also persuaded her sisters to get the jab. “They’ve all gone for their first dose, including my one sister with chronic illness and who is very, very paranoid about the vaccine. And they’re also all perfectly fine,” she said.  

A discussion between Sharifa and her daughter-in-law also led her daughter-in-law to take her grandmother and grandfather, who are 70 and 75 years old, to get vaccinated.

We can prevent it worsening

“People are dying; the hospitals are packed, but we can prevent Covid from getting worse,” said Sharifa.

“It’s one of the best decisions that you could ever make in your life – you’re not losing anything by getting vaccinated,” she said.

*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 | 'Covid was an awful experience': Once vaccine hesitant, one woman now eagerly awaits her second jab

READ | Doctor on overcoming Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy: ‘We just don’t know who will succumb to this virus’

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