Nervous About Needles: Toronto Vaccine Clinic Hopes to Ease Fears Among the Anxious


As a neuroscientist and molecular biologist, Samantha Yammine has intensive reverence for vaccines, but despises needles.

That is to the extent that she was consumed by anxiety for weeks ahead of her first COVID-19 vaccination, fearing not just the prick, but the whole process.

“I had a lot of times where I was kind of frozen, and overwhelmed, and I would just break down crying,” Yammine said.

“I knew I would do it, but that I could not do it alone.”

Yammine has lived with needle phobia since she was a kid, and accessed therapy ahead of her first-dose appointment. She took a test-drive to the clinic ahead of time to mentally prepare for the day, and was able successfully get the shot whereas lying down, in a private, while employing some coping strategies.

“During the actual vaccination I had my eyes closed, I had headphones on, I was blasting Beyoncé, and my partner was with me,” she said. “It was over really quickly, before I even got to my favourite verse.”

Elsewhere, Sandra Mason is struggling to convince her adult son, who lives with a similar anxiety, to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“He just can’t get past the fact that it’s a needle,” she said. “It’s a real phobia for him.”

Mason, however, says she is terrified that he will catch the virus without the protection of the vaccine.

“It just is life and death, and it’s scaring me.”

On Monday, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) held a vaccine clinic targeted to persons who live with fears or anxieties related to needles or medical settings, designed to make getting the shot as stress-free as possible.

“The thought of getting a needle might make people really tense, upset, and they might get physical symptoms like nausea and vomiting,” CAMH attending psychiatrist Dr. David Gratzer said Monday.

“The point is not what are the exact symptoms, the question is what we can do? A dedicated clinic that will spend time with people and they can get the jab that they want, without, perhaps, the anxiety that’s the roadblock.”

At the CAMH clinic, the needles are kept in a separate facility and all medical equipment is kept out of sight. There are privacy booths available for persons to get the shot in a separated area, and trained staff are on –hand to spend as much time as needed answering patient queries.

“In addition to having comfort items, things like fidgets and distractions, we have clinicians that are willing to just sit,” Erin Ledrew, the clinic’s manager, said.

“Each table has extra chairs so that if they didn’t bring a loved one with them, they can ask one of the clinicians to sit with them and just chat with them a little bit.”

The approach is much-needed, said Dr. Marina Malak, a family physician in Mississauga, since the decision of whether to get the vaccine can feel like a tough choice for those with certain anxieties.

“It’s a terrible illness like COVID, or your needle phobia which you are trying to keep under control,” she said. “That anxiety is amplified. Now you have anxiety about maybe catching a deadly virus, and you have anxiety about getting the needle.”

Yammine, meanwhile, wants others with similar anxieties to know that supports are there for those who would like to try to get the vaccine. She is proud to have received a second shot of the COVID-19 vaccine.  

“I wouldn’t say the second dose was easy,” she said. “But it was easier.”


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