WSYM — For people who are afraid of needles, times are tough.
The massive push to spread the word about the new COVID-19 vaccines is including a lot of images of syringes and needles, and for those with a serious fear, it could be a tipping point in deciding whether or not to actually get the shot.
“Visuals play such an important role in how we perceive things,” says Jeanine Guidry, an expert in the field of health communications who has done studies herself on the effects of needle phobia. “One of the things we’ve noticed is that whenever people are talking about vaccines online, a lot of times, when they include a visual, they include a visual of a needle.”
It’s bad news for people who aren’t fans of needles, and that’s a big group. A new study from the University of Michigan shows that 8% of healthcare workers in hospital settings, 18% of healthcare workers in long-term care settings, and 16% of adult patients skipped their flu shots because of a fear of needles. The numbers were similar for other vaccinations.
“A significant predictor of people not getting the vaccine was if they were afraid of needles,” said Guidry. “For most people that may not be an issue, but if you get someone who is vaccine hesitant and has needle phobia, that may be something that makes them take another step or not make that call or say, ‘I’ll wait,’ and that waiting may be too long.”
And, publishers of misinformation are taking advantage too. Guidry says posts and articles pushing anti-vaccine propaganda may intentionally use images of larger needles or syringes to deter participation in the vaccination process.
Phobia experts quoted in a New York Times article on the topic suggest people with needle phobia try desensitizing themselves by looking at pictures of, or even holding, needles. They also suggest listening to music during your vaccination to take your mind off the shot itself.
Guidry says the number is still relatively small but believes there is a risk to needle-phobic people not getting their vaccine, COVID-19 or otherwise.
“Needle phobia is something that plays a lot bigger role,” she said. “Maybe not percentage-wise but it exists in people’s lives. It didn’t start with COVID.”