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Needle phobia partly explains vaccine refusal

Wednesday June 16th 2021

People with needle phobia are twice as likely to delay or refuse a COVID-19 vaccine as others, British researchers report today.

Vaccine refusal is limiting the success of vaccination programmes around the world, so researchers from the University of Oxford, UK, set out to estimate the proportion of vaccine hesitancy caused by this fear in the UK adult population.

They analysed survey results from 15,014 adults, representative of the wider population for age, sex, ethnicity, income and region, in early 2021.

Just over 26% were deemed to have "blood-injection-injury phobia", and among this group, 22% were hesitant to have the COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 12% among those without the phobia. Needle phobia was higher in younger and Black and Asian ethnic groups.

"Across the adult population, blood-injection-injury fears may explain approximately 10% of cases of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy," the authors write today in Psychological Medicine.

They add: "Addressing such fears will likely improve the effectiveness of vaccination programmes."

Lead researcher 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."

He adds: "There is much that can be done to help people overcome their fear of needles. Cognitive behavioural therapy is typically fast and effective. 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."

Freeman, D. et al. Injection fears and COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. Psychological Medicine 16 June 2021; doi: 10.1017/S0033291721002609

Tags: Flu & Viruses | Mental Health | Pharmaceuticals | Respiratory | UK News | World Health

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