OPINION: Why my phobia of needles won't stop me getting the Covid vaccine

Bethany Wales, left, and Abigail Nicholson, enjoying a bus tour with City Sightseeing Norwich. Pictu

Reporter Abigail Nicholson on why she won't let her phobia of needles stop her from getting to Covid vaccine - Credit: Archant

Nobody likes needles, and although to many it may seem trivial, the fact is that hundreds of people may be having second thoughts when being offered the Covid vaccine due to fear.

I am one of these people, and I know I'm not alone.

It's hard to say when my fear of needles started, it's something that I can remember being petrified of my whole life.

I asked my parents and they said the phobia seemed to get worse after an abscess meant a dentist had to remove my tooth and use a needle to numb my gum.

My last four experiences with needles have all led to me passing out on the floor and waking up with a nurse standing over me with a cup of water asking me if I'm okay.

In fairness, the last time (after having a meningitis vaccination before heading off to university) the doctor told me to stay sat down after I said with glee "that wasn't so bad!" - to which I ignored her and said that I would be fine before passing out and hitting my head off the chair.

She told me that she thought the reason that I pass out is that my phobia means I get worked up over getting an injection, and then once I realise it's fine, the adrenaline leaves my body, and my blood pressure falls, leaving me in a pile on the floor.

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"Well just stop worrying about it," one of my work colleagues said when I brought up the idea of writing this piece, as though telling somebody to stop worrying about something has ever worked in history.

The phobia isn't just the pain and fear of passing out, this has now turned into a tidal wave that's making me scared people queueing for their vaccines may be put off having their own because they see me make a fuss or pass out.

I'm still going to get my vaccine, and yes I may pass out, and yes it's going to probably be awful, but it is more important is that me, my family, and the people around me are safe.

I know I'm not alone, according to a study,  3.5 - 10pc of the general population has needle phobia anxiety disorder, and is nothing to be ashamed of.

Research from Guy's and  St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust says many patients with needle phobia may have had a lot of blood tests or procedures as a child.

A fear of needles and injections often, but not always, results from bad memories of needles earlier in life.

As it stands there is no alternative to an injection, with all vaccines being given in the form of a jab, but could this mean some people are opting out because of their fear? 

Undoubtedly so.

I asked the NHS Norfolk and Waveney Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) about this topic, and they said a fear of needles is "very common".

They added: “We understand that vaccinations can be an anxious experience for some people who fear needles, and we’d like to reassure people that our vaccination staff are very well trained and are there to provide everyone with individual support.

“If you are nervous, please just let the person giving you your vaccine know so they can take any steps needed to help you feel safe and comfortable – everyone will be given the time and support they need, so please come forward for your vaccine when it’s your turn.”

There are many resources that can help you manage your fear, the Anxiety UK website has a dedicated COVID-19 vaccine support page that has information about needle phobia and injections and useful tips and resources.

What can I do if I have a needle phobia?

A vial of coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.

Do you think the Covid vaccine should be mandatory? - Credit: John Cairns/University of Oxford/PA Wire

There are three steps in the process from Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital: 

Relaxation - which could be by practising progressive muscle relaxation, breathing exercises or meditation

Developing an anxiety hierarchy or "fear ladder" - write down a list of all of the situations related to needles that you fear, arranged in order of difficulty

Pairing relaxation with the situations detailed in your hierarchy - by climbing the ladder (thinking about or acting out each step) from bottom to top, exposing yourself to the fear for a tolerable amount of time before taking time to relax

Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital in London also recommends trying applied tension, a technique to increase blood pressure levels back to normal to avoid fainting.

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