Fear of needles stopping COVID-19 vaccinations: you're not alone

Voice of Real Australia is a regular newsletter from ACM, which has journalists in every state and territory. Sign up here to get it by email, or here to forward it to a friend.

NOT ALONE: A fear of needles, trypanophobia, is real and could stop people from getting important vaccinations. Photo: AMY McINTYRE

NOT ALONE: A fear of needles, trypanophobia, is real and could stop people from getting important vaccinations. Photo: AMY McINTYRE

While the rush to get vaccinated against COVID-19 is on for people in Western NSW, for some the thought and sight of needles is terrifying.

Firstly people need to recognise, not everybody who questions the vaccination is an anti-vaxer.

The mere thought of getting jabbed in the arm with a needle, albeit a small one, can produce sweaty palms, dizziness and heart palpitations - or in my case tears.

A fear of needles, also known as trypanophobia, is real and could stop people from getting important vaccinations.

I will be honest, I shed many tears in front of a room full of Defence Force staff in the Dubbo mass vaccination clinic. And almost broke my friend's hand squeezing it so hard.

But one thing is for certain, while I dreaded it, it felt so good to finally do something about this pandemic.

It turns out I'm not alone. There are many people like me who want to vaccinate, but their fears get in the way.

According to a 2009 study from Queensland, nearly two-thirds of people with needle fear reported they would avoid getting the flu shot down the track, compared to less than 20 per cent of those without a needle fear.

While there are some non-needle COVID vaccine options which are at various stages of research and clinical trials, they're still in their infancy.

Unfortunately this means for the foreseeable future, jabs are it.

Rachael McGuire, a nurse researcher with the Melbourne Vaccination Education Centre who specialises in immunisation education and vaccine safety - and has personally delivered thousands of vaccines, said there were plenty of tips to help reduce the anxiety.

She said one of the main things to do is speak up if you're feeling nervous or scared. She said this then alerts clinicians who can help implement distraction techniques to ease the process.

"I've given vaccines to big burly men covered in tattoos who say 'I'm scared of needles' and speaking up is the best thing to do because if they faint and hit the deck I can't catch them," she said.

Importantly she said relax your muscles. Clenching a fist of tightening muscles can make it seem to hurt more.

Next, try not to look.

While some people like to see what's happening and when, others have seen enough COVID needle shots on TV and across social media to last a lifetime.

And, easier said than done, the next tip would be to take your mind off it.

Ms McGuire said calming your mind by doing a meditation on an app beforehand, or running through some simple breathing exercises while you wait can help.

Now, companies have even developed virtual reality apps designed to distract people and ease anxiety while getting the jab.

She also said distraction techniques like striking up a conversation with the clinician, or playing a game on your phone can help ease the anxiety. Wiggling your toes also helps.

"By focusing on a different part of the body you can train yourself to think about that instead of what's happening on your arm," she said.

Ultimately, no matter how many times people say "you won't feel a thing" - you never believe them.

But ... as I cried and screamed in anticipation, I genuinely didn't feel a thing, and even scored a lollypop afterward.

In case you are interested in filtering all the latest down to just one late afternoon read, why not sign up for The Informer newsletter?