An Echo Press Editorial: How to cope with vaccine anxiety
By the Echo Press Editorial Board
As of Monday, April 12, nearly 50% of Douglas County residents have taken at least their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
For many, getting it done brought a huge sigh of relief.
Others, however, have experienced anxiety, guilt or shaming.
And there are still many out there who are on the fence about getting vaccinated.
Here’s helpful information that was provided by Sophia Albott, MD, MA, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Minnesota Medical School. She provided the insights in a question-and-answer interview for the university’s “Talking with the U of M” newsletter.
Q: One common emotion related to the COVID-19 vaccine is “vaccine anxiety.” Can you define that feeling and how someone could cope as they wait their turn to receive their dose(s)?
Dr. Albott: Anxiety can occur when we are faced with an unknown. Many people have heard that the COVID-19 vaccine will enable life to return to normal. When faced with something that promises to end the chronic stress of a global pandemic, it can be challenging to wait. For this reason, people may feel anxiety in anticipation of when their turn will come.
The most important way to cope with these negative emotions is to acknowledge them. Oftentimes, naming an emotion enables us to move on from that emotion. I also think that focusing on simple ways of coping can be enormously helpful – getting a full night of sleep, getting outside and moving and connecting with people that care about us.
Q. What about “vaccine guilt?” How can someone manage their emotions around receiving the vaccine before others?
Dr. Albott: The other side of vaccine anxiety can be guilt when we may feel we did not deserve priority for the vaccine or that other’s needs should have taken priority over our own. In many ways, this guilt is another way of managing anxiety associated with wanting this pandemic to be over and life to return to normal. Guilt can occur when it feels that, for whatever reason, our health needs superseded the needs of someone else. For example, healthcare workers chose to dedicate their lives to the care of others, so the idea of taking a health resource for oneself can feel very at odds with our professional ethics. However, I think it is important to recognize that the vaccine is being offered to people not just at risk of having a negative health outcome from infection, but also to people at risk of transmitting the virus. Part of preventing others from getting sick is keeping ourselves from being a good host to the virus. I recommend to my patients who feel guilty that they focus on having “done their part” to curb the global numbers of infection.
Q: Although more people are now eligible to receive the vaccine, there is still a lack of vaccine acceptance in some communities. What boundaries should someone respect to avoid “vaccine shaming” and trying to convince a family member or friend to get the vaccine?
Dr. Albott: The important thing to remember when discussing the vaccine with people in our lives who may not want to get the vaccine is to keep a respectful tone and to encourage dialogue. The success of the vaccine for ending the pandemic will rest on achieving “herd immunity.” For this reason, keeping an open flow of dialogue is most likely to enable people to accept the importance of getting the vaccine – most people won’t change their mind in response to being “shamed” for not getting it. For this reason, it is better to give them an opportunity to express their hesitation or concerns. Sometimes, acknowledging someone’s fears is the best way to help them think more critically about an issue.
Q: Hopefully soon, vaccine rollouts will be complete and herd immunity achieved. How can people begin to emotionally prepare for a post-COVID world?
Dr. Albott: My hope would be that people would feel relief after getting the vaccine just knowing that they – along with family and friends – are less likely to contract the virus. Of course, as a society I also believe that we will need to process all of the grief and losses of the past year. This may lead to “post-vaccine grief” when we realize that life will never be completely what it was before the pandemic. My guess is that only after accepting that this trying time has changed us, will we be able to do the work of reconstructing our post-COVID lives.