Fear of needles causing vaccine hesitancy, says Eldemire-ShearerThursday, August 19, 2021
BY ROMARDO LYONS
Professor of public health and ageing at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, Dr Denise Eldemire-Shearer, has pointed to trypanophobia — the fear of needles — as one of the major factors causing several Jamaicans to refuse to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
The health ministry is on a drive to inoculate 65 per cent of Jamaicans by March 2022, but so far there has been a low take-up of the vaccine. This has been blamed on anti-vaxxers who have used pseudoscience and religious claims to push their position.
But Eldemire-Shearer told the Jamaica Observer that what has become apparent at the vaccine centre she supports is that some of those who fear taking the vaccine also have a fear of needles.
“We are seeing a number of people who are afraid of needles. And just to reassure people, it's a very thin, tiny needle and it does not pain. There will be staff at the various vaccination centres to hold your hand to help you get over the anxiety. So do not allow fear of a needle to be the reason to stop you from coming,” said Eldemire-Shearer.
“I didn't know so many people were afraid of a needle. It's not just anti-vaxxers. There are people who are afraid of needles. So, we hold hands, we rub shoulders, we rub backs… we do everything to get persons to relax,” added Eldemire-Shearer.
Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton has indicated that the Government is targeting the administration of 700,000 doses of the vaccine by the end of September, and professor Peter Figueroa, chair of the Caribbean Immunisation Technical Advisory Group believes Eldemire-Shearer's finding will have to be addressed if this goal is to be achieved.
“If she's seeing this, then it's feedback that we should consider and take into account,” Figueroa urged.
“There are always persons who are not comfortable getting injections. But what is interesting is that with this vaccine, an extra-thin needle is used so that most people, when they're getting the vaccine in the muscle of their upper arm actually do not feel anything. Usually when you go to a doctor and get an injection, you feel something. But, with the vaccine, you don't actually feel anything,” Figueroa explained.
He argued that word of mouth may help to demystify all the fears people may have regarding the jab.
“The more the persons who have gotten the vaccine talk, people will realise that the injection itself is not a problem. What we do have to advise though is that after some persons get the vaccine, they do develop a little discomfort in their arm.”
The health ministry has reported a daily increase in the number of hospital admissions across the country, with daily admissions at 70, out-peaking the numbers during the last surge in COVID-19 cases (March to April 2021). The island has recorded an average of more than 400 new cases each day over last week.
According to Eldemire-Shearer, those statistics alone should have Jamaicans eager to get vaccinated.
“I think now that we have seen the third spike and we are seeing the degree of hospitalisation; therefore, serious illness with the third spike, it is very clear from persons locally, as well as the international study, that the COVID vaccine, even though you still may contract COVID or pass it on, protects you from serious illness.
“If you look at the deaths you will see that, whereas six months ago we were talking about death rates among 80 and 90-year-old persons, the death rates are now much younger. There are 50-year-old and 30-year-old people dying from COVID. We are now seeing serious illness among the younger population. That in itself should motivate people,” said Eldemire-Shearer as she added that individuals who refuse to believe COVID-19 is a real threat are blindsiding themselves.
“They are putting on blinkers. Every day in the media there are the pictures and the stories of persons with COVID. The international media is full of it. I would think that with over 50,000 cases in Jamaica and over 1,000 deaths, many of us would know at least one person who has been severely ill. And, therefore, we are burying our head in the sand if we think it is not here. I think people are looking for excuses,” she lamented.
Eldemire-Shearer, who also serves as professor of public health and ageing at The UWI said as an academic, it's more than enough of a reason for her to hope that people go out and get vaccinated.
“Many of our students are saying that they are not getting the full university experience. University is much more than getting a degree. It's lifelong friendships, it's growing up; you come out of parental guidance and you become yourself. If we don't vaccinate we're not going to get back to that. I cannot believe that I cannot go to cricket. It's things like that… the normal everyday activities. It's not just about parties and nightclubs. It's the everyday parts of life,” she reasoned.
It is on that basis she believes there should be incentivisation to help boost vaccine take-up.
“Clearly, the movement towards rewarding vaccination or persons who take the vaccine is something that we have to look at. When I say reward, I don't necessarily mean money, but that you can do more things. It's clearly something that we have to look at,“ said Eldemire-Shearer.