Did you know some of the first immunizations given in the United States were ordered by General George Washington in 1777? His order to immunize troops against smallpox is credited by historians as one reason why the American Revolutionary War was won. At that time, Washington dealt with pushback from anxious soldiers who were afraid of the immunization. If you’re nervous about getting vaccinated against COVID-19, you can probably relate to that fear.

Vaccine anxiety is common and fueled by valid concerns about safety and efficacy. However, the need to get vaccinated against COVID-19 is urgent, and very real. If you or your child are nervous about getting the COVID-19 vaccine, that’s understandable.

Read on for information and tips you can use to overcome vaccine anxiety.

While the idea of a vaccine mandate might sound new, the COVID-19 vaccine is the most recent in a long line of vaccinations people in the United States currently get, including:

Many of these vaccines are required for highly social places like schools or nursing homes.

Just like all the vaccines we currently take, the COVID-19 vaccine protects against disease. Even so, concerns about vaccine safety and side effects are commonplace. Let’s discuss ways to ease common vaccine-related anxieties like development speed, needle phobia, and concerns about side effects.

Vaccines can take many years to develop, yet the vaccines against COVID-19 were rolled out within 1 year of the first known U.S. infection. This is not because scientists skipped steps or compromised on safety.

COVID-19 is a coronavirus, just like some of the viruses that cause the common cold. Researchers have been studying coronaviruses for decades. Development done for the HIV vaccine also helped researchers establish a viable groundwork for vaccination prototypes.

Another big obstacle that was eliminated was funding. Vaccine research can be put on hold for years if funding isn’t readily available or dries up midstream.

Funding for the COVID-19 vaccine was granted early by governments around the globe, including the United States through Operation Warp Speed. The U.S. government also absorbed the financial risk, enabling manufacturers to produce and stockpile millions of vaccine doses, even before knowing if they would be effective or not.

Vaccine development took place worldwide in many laboratories simultaneously. In a truly revolutionary approach to global cooperation, findings were freely shared and distributed between researchers. This level of collaboration dramatically spurred progress. It also marked one of the most transparent scientific processes ever witnessed against severe disease.

Fear of needles and injections

Let’s face it, most people don’t enjoy injections. For some people, however, fear of needles can be overpowering and a real obstacle to getting much-needed medical treatments, including vaccines.

Trypanophobia (fear of medical procedures requiring needles) is a fairly common phobia that affects up to 30 percent of adults. The cause of trypanophobia is not known. However, a traumatic childhood event involving needles can sometimes be at cause.

If you experience this phobia, be sure to let the healthcare professional administering your shot know in advance. They’ll be able to work with you during the shot to help you feel more comfortable.

We’ll also provide some strategies below that you may find helpful to reduce your fear of the injection beforehand.

Fear of side effects

Fear of vaccine side effects might also be stopping you from getting the vaccine. If so, keep in mind that these side effects are mild and short-lived, especially when compared with symptoms of COVID-19. Many people don’t get side effects from their first, second, or third COVID-19 vaccines.

Others can experience flu-like symptoms for 1 to several days. Check if your employer has any vaccine-related time-off programs if you’re concerned about missing work due to recovery time.

Common side effects from COVID-19 vaccines include:

Serious side effects, including allergic reactions and myocarditis (heart inflammation) are very rare. Talk with your doctor if you have concerns about serious side effects.

Billions of people worldwide have already been vaccinated against COVID-19, and appointments are much easier to get now than they were in the early days of vaccination. When you’re ready, making a game plan may help you overcome your anxiety. These steps can help:

  • Stay off social media. False vaccine horror stories abound. Some are designed to stoke fear and anxiety. Make sure to vigorously fact-check everything you read.
  • Prepare for mild side effects. Make sure you have what you’ll need on hand for the rest of the day. This can include a thermometer, food, and a fever reducer such as acetaminophen. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend taking any type of pain medication before getting the shot.
  • Hydrate before vaccination. One small study found that hydration reduced the perception of acute (short-term) pain in participants.
  • Find a location. The CDC’s vaccine finder can help you locate a facility. You can also contact your local pharmacy to see if they have shots available. Your doctor or your child’s pediatrician may also be able to guide you to a location.
  • Make an appointment. Making an official appointment can help give you some accountability. If you’re nervous about making the call yourself, ask a friend or family member to do it for you.
  • Bring a friend. Moral support can go a long way toward making the experience easier. Bring someone with you who will be able to distract you or hold your hand during the vaccination process.
  • Get an appointment for your second shot. If you’re getting a vaccine that requires two shots, get your second appointment before you leave the vaccination site.

Children don’t need to have trypanophobia to be scared of shots. If your child is nervous about getting vaccinated, you can help get them through it with these strategies:

  • Don’t disregard their feelings. Let your child know you understand their anxiety and will be there to support them through the process.
  • Watch your words. Try to avoid talking about the vaccine with words like “pain“ and “needle.“ Instead, try choosing neutral language, such as “slight pressure,“ or “tiny pinch.“
  • Help them see the future. Let your child know that vaccination will enable them to see friends or family members they’ve been missing. Let them know it will protect them from illness and help them to go to fun places safely, like the movies.
  • Ask about numbing cream. Find out ahead of time if a numbing preparation will be provided. If not, ask your child’s doctor if you can use an over-the-counter numbing agent on your child’s arm ahead of time.
  • Distract them. During vaccination, hold your child’s hand, play a video on your phone, tell a silly joke, or sing a song.
  • Deep breathe together. Taking deep, rhythmic breaths can help calm your child down. Try deep breathing with them before and during the shot.
  • Hold them. Small children may do best if they sit on your lap and are held throughout the process.

If you feel anxious after getting vaccinated, distract yourself with a good book, an exciting movie, a hot bath, or a phone call with a friend. Strategies such as meditation, deep breathing, and yoga can help you feel calm. Having a friend over when you’re feeling under the weather can also be comforting.

Some early reports, particularly with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, seemed to indicate that the COVID-19 vaccine could cause anxiety symptoms such as: rapid heart rate, hyperventilation, or nausea. However, later research believes these reactions are due to shot-related anxiety, rather than the vaccine itself.

Know that you’ll be monitored at the site for a few minutes after your vaccination. This will ensure you have immediate assistance should you have a rare reaction to the vaccine.

Anxiety is not all in your head. It can cause physical symptoms, including a racing heart and dizziness. Though less common, fainting has been known to occur in some people after getting vaccinations of all kinds, including the COVID-19 vaccine. If you’ve had this reaction before and it’s keeping you from getting vaccinated, talk with your doctor. They may be able to prescribe medication to help relieve this.

If anxiety is keeping you from getting necessary healthcare, or is interfering with other aspects of your life, talking with a therapist or psychiatrist can help.

Anxiety about getting the COVID-19 vaccine is natural. However, you should do your best not to let anxious thoughts keep you or your child from getting necessary healthcare. Taking a proactive approach by using anxiety-reducing strategies and planning ahead for mild side effects can help reduce fear.