St. John’s psychologist offers advice for flu shot phobia

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You’ve seen it before: the terrified child crying at the sight of a syringe.

St. John’s psychologist Janine Hubbard is so tired of the image, she specifically asked The Telegram not to use it.

“If you do an attached photo for any of this, please don’t use the screaming child with the needle coming at them,” she said Monday with a chuckle. “Seriously, we have worked so hard to get that out of the media.”

But many parents do encounter it first-hand.


One St. John’s mom remembers the blood-curdling scream her seven-year-old son let out in the doctor’s office two years ago and wondered if it had leached into the drugstore below for all to hear.

She’s hoping for less stress this time.

“We’re really hoping that being around his buddies, all having to do the same thing, will help a great deal.”

As a parent, your instinct may be not to bring up the pending puncture — just spring it on them at the last minute and pray it goes well.

Bad idea, says Hubbard.

It’s far better to talk it through and prepare for the event.

“Sometimes it’s just the sight of a syringe, in which case, sometimes you can just get the empty syringes from the pharmacy, without the sharp point,” she said.

Encourage younger children to drink water out of the syringe for fun, or to go around and give vaccinations to all their stuffed animals.

Band-Aids, especially ones representing favourite cartoons, are the perfect antidote. Superheroes are even better.

“Then you get the kid to go around with their superhero Band-Aid and go, ‘Look at what I did today.’”

Most important, she says, is not to lie.

“The worst thing you can do is say, it’s not going to hurt. You might get away with that once, and then you’ll never, ever get them to have another vaccination.”

There’s a particular stigma for those who carry a fear of needles into adulthood.

But Hubbard says it’s not as rare as you’d think.



“It is an extremely common fear because it’s something that does happen to most of us but not very frequently. And the thing with anxieties are, the more you avoid them, the bigger the fear becomes.”

Fear of needles actually stops some people from getting proper health care.

“It’s something that they know is needed, and they’re almost embarrassed or ashamed that they’re not able to do it because of fear,” Hubbard said. “It stops them in some cases from getting appropriate health care on a variety of things, not just their flu shot.”

The solution? Once again, preparation is key.

Do some self-evaluation.

“Am I someone who needs to know every step of the way what’s going to happen?” If that’s you, watch videos about it, or go through the motions. Get used to the smell of alcohol wipes if that’s what triggers you.

See a psychologist if necessary. It could be a symptom of a general anxiety disorder or it could be a very specific phobia.

At the big event, distraction is key.

“Engage your brain in something that’s going to distract you from what’s going on,” she said. That could simply be talking about the news or weather or the movie you just saw.

“We’re really lucky this year,” Hubbard said. “We’ve got a whole wealth of places we can go to access it. So, figure out where you’re most comfortable.”

And 2020 may present a unique opportunity, she said.

“There’s no shame in it. There’s no stigma in it. And maybe this is the year, given the COVID situation, to take the plunge and try to fight back against that fear.”

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