Helping News                                                   March, 2021   Issue 151

Alleviating Anxiety Around the Coronavirus Vaccine

February 2021 Article by:
Ilene Raymond Rush

While the vaccines may have appeared to have been rushed to market, both represent years of basic scientific research and were rigorously tested in clinical trials. Plus, they both are extremely effective in preventing the coronavirus: the Moderna vaccine reaches 94% effectiveness two weeks after the second dose while the Pfizer vaccine reaches 95% effectiveness one week after the second dose. If you are having doubts about getting the vaccine, here’s some expert advice to help you face your fears so you can get your shot.

“The best way to combat vaccine hesitancy from anxiety is with reputable data,” says Thea Gallagher, PsyD, assistant professor and director of Outpatient Clinic at the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety (CTSA) in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “Always choose scientific data over a ‘Mom blog’ that says vaccines cause autism or offers an anti-vaxxer conspiracy theory.”

When it comes to anti-vaxxers, experts debate whether it’s better to try to combat their unscientific theories point by scientific point, to “scare” people into vaccine compliance by showing them the effects of the coronavirus or to resort to strategies like those of some pediatricians who require parents to vaccinate their children or leave the practice.

“Everyone has opinions, but if you’re going to doubt science due to made-up theories or your own beliefs, I don’t think anyone is going to be able to convince you of anything different,” says Gallagher. “If you really want to lower your anxiety and understand what’s truly going on you have to trust someone—and in this case, it should be scientists who have given their lives to this research and who really want you to feel better and be less vulnerable.”

Among reliable sites she recommends for valid information are the Centers for Disease Control, which works to put out clear data as quickly as possible. Or, refer to a trusted infectious disease specialist such as Dr. Anthony Fauci or a vaccine expert such as Paul Offit, MD. Or contact your own doctor or an infectious disease doctor you trust to talk about your fears.

Other tips to combat anxiety around the coronavirus vaccine:

Check your imagination: Anxiety is often fueled by “what-if’s”—imagined scenarios of the many ways events can head south. For example, if you fear getting the vaccine because you might have an allergic reaction, consult the facts: one study of the Pfizer vaccine showed that allergic reactions occurred about 11.1 times per million patients.3 Know that before you receive a vaccine you must complete a questionnaire on your history of allergic reactions from earlier injections. In addition, you will be asked to remain at the vaccination center for 15 to 30 minutes to assure a reaction does not occur.

Run a risk-benefit analysis: Thinking of the vaccine in terms of risk vs. benefits may help reframe your anxieties since the risks of contracting COVID-19 are much worse than any risk posed by vaccines. “Remember that pregnant women are currently receiving the vaccine because the risks of coronavirus are much worse than taking the shot,” says Gallagher.

Stay in the moment: In practical terms, Gallagher suggests setting up a clear plan: map how and when you will get to the vaccination center, how you will get the shot, how you will sit afterward to wait for any negative reaction. “Work on what you need to do to follow through with each step and avoid anticipating the worst,” she advises.

“If anxiety continues to keep you from getting a shot, or if you’ve researched everything from reliable sources and you’re still too scared to sign up for a vaccine, or if you’ve made an appointment and avoided it, then you might need to see a therapist for help,” she said.

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