Covid vaccine and needle phobia: 'It feels like the world is ending'

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Adam spent hours in a vaccine clinic on his second attempt to get Covid jab

Adam really wants to get vaccinated against Covid-19, but an extreme fear of needles is holding him back.

The 23-year-old from Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, says it's not the pain he's afraid of. For him, it's the thought of the injection itself - and the needle piercing his skin.

"It feels like the world is ending in that moment," Adam says.

"It feels like you have no way out, you can't do anything, your heart rate's pushing 200, you can't focus on anything.

"It's about a pathological fear of needles."

In total, over 85 million doses of the Covid vaccine have been administered across the UK.

But a recent Oxford University survey of more than 15,000 adults in the UK suggests needle phobia accounts for about 10% of Covid vaccine hesitancy.

More than 68% of 18 to 29-year-olds in England have had a first jab, while 88.6% of all UK adults have had one.

The survey suggests reluctance to get the Covid jab is generally a bit higher in younger people and some ethnic minority groups.

Adam has severe anxiety - and he thinks his needle phobia developed after he had his ear pierced when he was eight.

It took weeks for him to get himself to a vaccine centre to even attempt to get a Covid jab. But when he saw his local hospital's vaccine centre put a message out on Facebook offering support to anyone nervous about the jab, Adam decided to take the plunge.

At his appointment, he was given a side room with a nurse where he could discuss his fears.

He tells BBC News that after hours of "severe panic", he felt he'd made some progress, but still wasn't ready to have the jab.

Three days later, Adam spent three more hours in a private room with nurses. They used techniques such as slow breathing and distraction to help him overcome his fears.

Adam said he came close to having the jab this time, but flinched at the last moment so the needle didn't inject the dose.

What is needle phobia?

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Around one in 10 people who are hesitant to have the Covid-19 jab have needle phobia, a study suggests

Needle phobia is a fear of medical procedures that involve needles or injections. It affects about one in 10 people, according to the NHS.

The fear is often the result of bad memories of needles in younger life.

"It's possible that seeing others reacting [badly] to an injection means you learn that response from them," says psychologist and phobia specialist, Robert Edelman.

"Needles are also associated with blood and for a lot of people that triggers an anxiety response - an increase and then a decrease in heart rate results in fainting."

There are lots of ways to help people overcome needle phobia, such as cognitive behavioural therapy.

Treatment can include someone getting gradual exposure to needles and injections, by being shown pictures and videos to begin with.

And there are methods to help stop people fainting in fear, such as teaching them to recognise early signs of a dip in blood pressure.

Other tips from experts we've spoken to include:

  • Before your vaccine appointment, start thinking about why you're worried about it
  • Talk about those reasons with other people
  • Learn some breathing techniques to help you feel calm
  • Tell the person giving you the vaccine that you have a fear

Psychiatrist Andrew Iles says it's good to remember that it's natural to find it unpleasant to get a jab.

"Jabs are uncomfortable and strange so it's absolutely fine to be fearful of needles, but it's really important not to let that put you off getting the vaccine."

Despite Adam's failed attempts, he's feeling optimistic about trying again - and has booked in at the same vaccine clinic next week.

"Game on! Hopefully I'll grab it and get it out of the way."

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