In late May, Samantha Yamin, a Toronto neuroscientist who advocates for vaccines, shared what had become a source of shame and embarrassment for her. For most of her life, Yammine lived with a severe anxiety around needles—a phobia that led her to avoid vaccinations for years.
As a scientist, Yamin understood the toll of the pandemic and knew that mass vaccination was the way to go. But she was crushed by fear and dread. How can she be a vaccine advocate if she is not vaccinated against COVID-19?
“I knew I had to get it, but I honestly didn’t think I’d be able to,” she said.
31 year old Yamin, better known as science community On social media, don’t be afraid of needles the way some people get mildly distressed by spiders or thunderstorms. His fear is rooted in childhood trauma and it activates the same fight-or-flight response that another person might have if they encountered a bear or a home intruder.
But when Yamin shared his story on Twitter, it came with a positive development. After months of planning, therapy, and meeting at an accessibility clinic, she did it: She was vaccinated.
“It was really affirming to know that I could achieve something that felt impossible to me,” she wrote.
In the four months since, thousands of Canadians have messaged Yamin on social media to share that they, too, are debilitated by a fear of needles or medical anxiety. “These are people who know how important vaccination is and who want to get vaccinated but can’t figure out how to get there,” Yamin said. “And they’re just feeling so embarrassed and intimidated and embarrassed.”
While fear of a light needle is common, Research It suggests that one in 10 adults is frightened enough to delay or avoid vaccination, making the condition a significant and under-recognized public health concern. A 2018 Review US researchers suggested that 27 percent of hospital staff avoided the flu vaccine because of fear of needles.
With more than 80 percent of eligible Ontarians now fully immunized against COVID-19, experts agree that people with needle phobia and other types of medical anxiety make up a significant portion of the holdouts, and there is a need to accommodate them. More should be done.
In recent weeks, as anti-mandate protesters have targeted hospitals, terrorized health care workers and even entered a school demonstrating in BC, the public has turned to people without vaccinations. There is an increasing impatience with, and at times, a failure to recognize that anger. Anti-vax mobs represent only a small fraction of the 14 percent of people who have not yet received a single dose of the vaccine.
Of the entire population, only two to five percent are complete refusers, said Dr. Noni Macdonald, a physician and professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Dalhousie University who studies vaccine hesitancy. “But for the rest, there’s usually a reason.” Often the cause is an obstacle that needs to be overcome: a single mother who hasn’t got the time, a shy person who hasn’t answered her own questions; People whose fears have not been removed.
At the start of the vaccine rollout, survey results suggested that the majority of Canadians planned to receive the vaccine, while a small number were against it, and about a quarter were mebs, or “running middle”, who would need help. or reassuring
“The population that we used to call the ‘moving middle’ has become smaller, because many of those people have already been relocated — for vaccination,” Macdonald said. “But within the group that hasn’t been vaccinated, we have a significant number where pain is an issue and needle phobia is an issue,” Macdonald said.
Since sharing her story, Yammine has become an unofficial vaccine physician for people with fear and anxiety. People DM him daily on Instagram asking for advice; They acknowledge that they have not yet been vaccinated for COVID-19; They share stories of struggle or triumph; When they are in panic and about to run away, they walk out of the waiting room in desperation.
Her own anxiety comes from the trauma, not the prick of the needle, which is why she prefers the term needle anxiety over needle anxiety.
“I’m not afraid of pain,” she said. “I’m menstruating. I do Muay Thai kick-boxing. I’ve been punched in the face.”
The fear began when she fainted during routine vaccinations at school at age 12 — a frightening experience that was mishandled by medical professionals, she said. Her concerns about fainting were dismissed at future appointments, leading to more fainting episodes and further trauma. The fear comes from everything involving the needle, including the medical setting, she said.
Yammine started preparing for her COVID-19 vaccine long before her appointment. He treated for seven hours. She received a numbing cream that made her skin insensitive to distraction from what was happening. She chose an accessibility clinic that could offer accommodations such as privacy and a place to lie down, so she didn’t have to worry about panicking or fainting in front of people. She worried that her reaction might deter others from getting vaccinated.
“I didn’t want to spoil anyone else’s vibe.”
She had made a practice visit to the clinic the night before. During the vaccination, she closed her eyes and listened to Beyoncé through her headphones. His friend was standing nearby. It was the first time in a long time that he got a shot without fainting.
Candace Alper, a marketing professional from Richmond Hill, was one of those people who saw Yamin’s story, and thought: That’s me.
Alper, 47, can’t tell when her fear started, but she has struggled with it all her life. As a university student, she avoided traveling abroad because she could not bring herself to receive the necessary vaccines. During labor, she refused to have an epidural because the needle scared her more than labor.
Alper realized at some point in his life that people thought he was difficult, or that his fears were not real. She started chatting with Yameen online. “Here was this person saying, ‘This is a real thing.’ It was important to me,” she said.
When Ontario began its COVID vaccine rollout, Alper knew he would eventually have to get “the jab”—a term heard daily on the news, causing fear. He has weak family members. She works for an organization that provides support and services to children facing life-threatening and chronic illness.
“Knowing the people we support and what they’re doing, I couldn’t just say ‘No, I can’t get a needle.’ “
The mass vaccination centers were not working for Alper. “I couldn’t think of anything more triggering for someone like myself than a huge facility that holds needles for hundreds of people,” she said. In addition to a calm environment, two things were needed to achieve her goal: her mother-in-law, who has been her support person for every needle she’s found in recent years; and a sedative.
Alper tried her first dose at a small clinic in the spring, but the anti-anxiety medication didn’t work, and she panicked. She tried again about a month later and the first dose ran out.
In August, Alper made an appointment for her second dose after learning from Yameen about a specialized clinic for people with needle phobia at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health.
It was the most comfortable experience Asper had ever felt after getting a needle. The clinic had a quiet atmosphere, no medical equipment, extra time between appointments so she didn’t feel rushed, a private place to lie down, and kind staff. CAMH uses card system, an evidence-based approach to managing stressful situations that emphasizes relaxation, asking questions, providing time for relaxation and distraction.
CAMH has organized five needle phobia clinics as part of its last-mile vaccination effort, with a sixth scheduled for 27 september. Around 250 people have been vaccinated in the clinic, while another one is vaccinated every day. Eight in 10 people who are afraid of needles travel regular clinicsWhere the hospital can meet their needs as well.
Elsewhere in Toronto, city-run vaccination clinics offer accessibility accommodations, but requests can only be made if patients arrive at the clinic, not in advance.
Megan McMurtry, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Guelph who studies needle phobia, argued in the New York Times Needle scare is a less recognized vaccination challenge. In an interview, McMurtry said that people with high levels of needles need evidence-based interventions, including therapy, long before they reach vaccine clinics in the first place.
“If you have a significant fear, even talking about needles will make you want to run to the other side,” she said. “Help is needed before vaccination.”
Yamin said those with a fear of needles or a medical concern should not be afraid to ask for accommodation, especially now that clinics are less busy and focused on serving people who are hard to reach. “Whatever you need to be able to get your vaccine, that can be arranged,” she said. “Your health care provider will do whatever it takes to break down barriers, so please just ask.
“And if you can’t find someone who will do this for you, let me know,” she said. “I’ll find you someone.