Covid: Treating needle phobias could reduce vaccine hesitancy

According to the research, if all injection anxiety in the population was removed then more than 10% of instances of vaccine hesitancy might disappear too. Credit: PA

If those with needle phobias are treated and successfully cured then coronavirus vaccine hesitancy could be reduced, according to researchers.

The new study by the department of psychiatry at the University of Oxford, suggests one quarter of the UK adult population screens positive for a potential injection phobia.

Researchers say these people were twice as likely to report being hesitant to getting a Covid-19 vaccine, they would put off getting vaccinated or indeed never get the jab.

But if all injection anxiety in the population was removed then more than 10% of instances of vaccine hesitancy might disappear too, the data indicates.

People can be helped to overcome their fear of needles, including through the use of cognitive behavioural therapy, experts say.

A group of 15,014 UK adults in the third Oxford Coronavirus Explanations, Attitudes, and Narratives Survey were asked to rate their anxieties about needles and blood.

They were also asked about their willingness to receive a coronavirus jab.

Study lead, Professor Daniel Freeman, said: “For people with injection phobia the sight, say, of a hypodermic needle will prompt an initial increase in heart rate and blood pressure.

“This may be swiftly followed by a sudden decline in both.

“When that happens, some people faint.

“The Covid-19 vaccination programme means that almost everyone has had, or will soon have, to face the needle.

“People may certainly think twice about joining a queue for a vaccine if they fear that they might topple to the ground.”

Typically, vaccine hesitant people say they have concerns about the safety of the vaccines and scepticism about the seriousness of Covid-19.

But researchers say their survey makes clear that fear of the needle may also play a part.

Vaccine uncertainty is higher among younger people, according to the research. Credit: PA

According to the research, Covid vaccine hesitancy is a little higher among younger people, and certain ethnic minority groups.

But it is not only vaccine scepticism that is more common in these groups, it is injection fears too, and experts say this is not coincidental.

While not the main factor, the study suggests injection fears partially account for higher rates of vaccine hesitancy in these demographic groups.

Prof Freeman added: ‘When it comes to controlling Covid-19, every vaccination counts.

“There is much that can be done to help people overcome their fear of needles.

“Cognitive behavioural therapy is typically fast and effective and can even be successfully given in group sessions.

“Treatment involves gradual exposure to needles and injections, beginning with simply showing pictures and videos.

“Fainting can be tackled too.

“Patients can be taught how to recognise the early signs of a dip in their blood pressure and to combat this drop by applied muscle tension.”

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Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group at the University of Oxford said: “The coronavirus as a public health threat remains with us and those who are unvaccinated will continue to be at risk.

“Strategies to address protection for the unvaccinated are urgently needed, including getting access to vaccines for those without it and addressing fears and concerns of those who decline.”

The survey was conducted between January 19 and February 5 this year with 15,014 UK adults, quota sampled to match the population for age, gender, ethnicity, income, and region.

Researchers from the University of Oxford, were funded by the National Institute for Health (NIHR) Research Oxford Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) and the Oxford Health BRC.

The study is published in the journal Psychological Medicine.