Terrified of needles? Here’s how Torontonians are facing their fears and getting COVID-19 vaccines

A man arrives with two young girls for his shot at the COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Ontario Food Terminal in Toronto on Tuesday May 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Taylor Deasley grew up with a mother who didn’t believe in the science behind vaccinations.

“I wasn't allowed to get vaccinated growing up,” Deasley told CTV News Toronto. “I had permission in my schools to not get vaccinated, so I was able to be exempt from all of the required vaccines and I grew up very scared of them.”

Her fear of vaccinations manifested itself again physically in her later years. She began experiencing fainting spells and panic attacks when seeking out the missed vaccinations her mother prevented her from receiving as a child.

When it became Deasley’s turn to receive her COVID-19 vaccination, she “was nervous about the process and nervous [about what] was going to happen.”

“But I went anyway,” she explained.

Deasley’s anxieties surrounding needles and vaccinations are shared by many other Torontonians.

“The day I was to get my first Pfizer shot, I was a basket case,” Toronto resident Deborah Adoot, who received her first dose of a COVID-19 vaccination at Seneca Campus Collage, told CTV News Toronto.

“You can ask anyone who knows me. I was so incredibly anxious, but unable to think what exactly was causing my fear. I could not put my finger on it. That day I got nothing done. I could not work. [..] It was crazy irrational, I knew it, but I could not stop it,” Adoot continued.

To find out exactly what Torontonians can do about such fears, CTV News Toronto spoke to Dr. Samantha Yammine, local neuroscientist and professional science communicator, who also happens to experience severe anxieties around needles and injections.

“I think when we say ‘needle phobia,’ people really think it's like a literal fear of the needle and [..] the pain, but it can be about so much more than that,” Yammine explained.

As a school-aged child, Yammine experienced a fainting spell while receiving a vaccination in front of her schoolmates. Ever since then, she’s experienced continued fainting spells and anxiety when faced with needles. She says doctors were not always accommodating to this anxiety.

“I would go to the doctor and have to get a needle and I would tell them, I think I'm you know I'm nervous and I'm uncomfortable and I didn't always get the compassionate care that I needed,” Yammine said.

As a science educator, Yammine says she was excited to get her COVID-19 vaccination.

“I was really excited to be vaccinated, just the process of getting vaccinated I knew would be stressful. I was just dreading doing it,” she explained.

“Then, I learned about the City of Toronto-run accessibility clinic. It's run by the [Accessibility Task Force on COVID-19 Vaccines]. They were only running two in May, so I signed up for one. I went there and it's specifically for people with any kind of disability. And so, [..] they had a form field where you could write any type of accommodations you required,” Yammine told CTV News Toronto.

“I was able to tell them what could happen to me, what I needed to try to prevent that from happening, which included a support person having a private area, having a place to lay down and being able to kind of take my time so that we wouldn't feel rushed. And for my partner to do all my check-ins,” she said.

With these added accommodations, Yammine “had a great experience” getting her first dose.

Deasley also reported that additional accommodations helped her to feel more at ease.

“The staff gave me extra attention. They brought me into, like, a separate room. It had a bed and they were like, ‘You can lay here if you feel faint afterwards. We'll give you 15 minutes extra to stay. Instead of 15 minutes, you can stay for 30,’” she recalled.

Luckily, the City of Toronto has not left those who suffer trypanophobia out of their official vaccination rollout.

When asked about what kind of accommodations Toronto Public Health is able to provide to those who experience anxiety, a spokesperson for the health unit told CTV News Toronto that residents could bring a care provider with them, that privacy rooms could be offered, and that further accommodations could be offered if residents communicate their needs to clinic staff.

For those still unsure, Dr. Yammine has just one message:

“My fellow needle folks: I want you to know, first, that it's nothing to be embarrassed about. There's a lot of shame and embarrassment and stigma. I just want people to know it's a very real thing,” she said.

“If you require accommodations, please know that you can ask for them. You can ask at almost any mass vaccination site and even pop-ups. You often have to ask when you're there, so bring an advocate who can ask for you, if you think that would be a barrier, and make sure that you get the accommodations that you deserve.”