We are currently confronted with this scene on television almost every day – and many have to look the other way: bare upper arms, rubber gloves, it has not happened yet. But then: Zack is the needle. Many don’t get vaccinated – for that reason alone. The Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry (MPI) in Munich is now offering those affected a short behavioral therapy program to treat the syringe phobia.
You can hardly see it, it weighs almost nothing, its outer diameter is 0.254 mm – twice that of a strong adult hair. The worst that can happen when this thin metal tube is stabbed into your skin for seconds is a droplet or two of blood. Many of them don’t even feel a spade when they are vaccinated, because the cannula is sharpened with a multiple bevel and almost without resistance finds its way into the muscle where the vaccine is to be deposited. Nevertheless, many can hardly stand the sight or are therefore most afraid of going to the COVID-19 vaccination. A completely unfounded fear – but a human one.
Short-term intervention program with six sessions
“Blood tests, vaccinations or small interventions can trigger very strong fears and sometimes fainting in some people, so that they avoid them or experience them only with very high stress and strain,” says Angelika Erhardt, senior doctor and head of the outpatient department for psychiatry and psychotherapy at Munich Max Planck Institute. “Especially now, when vaccinations against COVID-19 are so important, this is a big problem for those affected.” So that this vital vaccination does not fail at this recoverable hurdle, the MPI is now offering a behavioral short-term intervention program.
Therapy: learn to look in gentle steps
In the case of blood, syringe and injury phobia, so-called “in vivo exposure” is the therapy of choice. This means: the therapists gradually introduce their patients to the fearful event and confront them. If it is a phobia of syringes, see Those affected first look at pictures and then films of the situation together with therapists until they are ready to receive an injection or to be piked. This takes place in around six sessions. “The short intervention is very effective,” says Angelika Erhardt, head of the Ambulance at the MPI. “Even if the fear is not completely gone afterwards, vaccinations or other interventions are usually easy to carry out.”
“I can’t see blood”: where it comes from
The central fear reaction in the “blood injection injury phobia” relates to seeing blood, the injection itself and the associated pain stimulus and loss of control, for example through fainting. If the phobia is left untreated, it can mean that those affected avoid important treatments or preventive measures – for years or even for life. “The fears can be so strong that they only perceive necessary medical interventions or preventive measures under very high stress or not at all – possibly with negative consequences for their health,” the MPI continues. In childhood and young adulthood, the number of those affected is high at around 20 percent; the prevalence over the entire lifespan is around three percent, as the incidence of the disease drops significantly in old age.
According to the MPI, little research has been done to date on how many adults refuse to be vaccinated because they are phobia of syringes. However, it is estimated that it amounts to 5 to 7 percent of the total population. 16 percent of the patients in acute treatment are affected, 18 percent of those employed in the health sector and 8 percent of those employed in hospitals.
Information on treatment and registration on the MPI website: