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Needle phobias are preventing some people from getting COVID-19 vaccines. These interventions could help – CBC.ca

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A blade of grass and a lot of patience.

That was how Paul Friedlander finally got his dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in September. 

The 12-year-old has a needle phobia, and while he desperately wants to receive his second dose, his fears are proving hard to overcome. 

“My brain and my body just do not let me get this injection,” he said.  

His mom, Anna Eberhardt Friedlander, is looking for the Vancouver nurse who poked a stalk of grass into her son’s arm to mimic the pressure of a needle and spent over an hour comforting him before he got the jab at a pop up clinic at the University of British Columbia. 

She’s hoping the nurse could again help her son overcome his fear so he could get a second dose of the vaccine but has so far not had luck finding the nurse, whom she only knows by her first name, Rosa.

The family tried to get Paul vaccinated a second time, but he said the experience was traumatizing, and they’re unsure when they’ll try again.

Paul and his mother, Anna Eberhardt Friedlander, are trying to track down the nurse who comforted Paul during his first vaccine dose so she might be able to help him get his second. (Andrew Lee / CBC News )

Provinces could do more to address fears

About 4.5 per cent of adults in Canada have a severe phobia of needles, according to the Canadian Psychological Association. It’s characterized by a persistent fear of needles and intense anxiety or distress around having blood work done or receiving injections.

Anna Taddio investigates needle phobias, particularly in children, at the University of Toronto’s Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy.

She says while most nurses receive training in how to make people feel more relaxed around getting needles, there are a myriad easy and often free ways to put people with intense needle phobia at ease.

Offering longer appointments with lots of time to talk the procedure through or letting people walk outside for fresh air can make a big difference, she says. 

As provinces expand their vaccination programs to school-age children and unvaccinated adults, Taddio says, it makes sense for health providers to embed more accommodating practices in their vaccine rollout.

Some provinces, such as B.C., offer information on how to manage a needle phobia, but researchers say more concrete steps, such as dedicated spaces for those with phobias, could be beneficial. 

“If you actually have a fear of needles, that can be the only reason that’s preventing you from getting vaccinated,” Taddio said. 

Erin Ledrew runs a special clinic in Toronto at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health offering COVID-19 vaccines and flu shots to people with needle phobia. She says they see about a dozen people a day with needle fears. (Simon Dingley / CBC News)

Play their cards right 

Taddio and other needle phobia experts say it’s important to not dismiss a person’s phobia but to empower them by giving them choices. 

One strategy is called the CARD system. 

Patients are shown cards labelled with letters and told to choose their preferred intervention, Taddio says: “c” for comfort, “a” for asking questions, “r” for relax and “d” for distract. 

If someone chooses distraction, they might be given a basket of fidgeting toys to divert their attention.

Using the CARD system means staff can customize patients’ experiences have better outcomes, Taddio says.

“It can reduce the vaccine side-effects that people who are afraid or anxious of needles have,” she said. “It decreases what we call immunization stress-related responses. So this includes fear, pain, dizziness and even fainting.” 

Amrita Nayak says her fear of needles increased as she got older. She is now fully vaccinated and shares her experiences getting the COVID vaccine with other needle-phobic people online in a bid to encourage them to get the jab. (Submitted by Amrita Nayak)

It’s a system employed by Erin Ledrew at a special clinic offering COVID-19 vaccines and flu shots to needle-phobic people at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. 

About a dozen needle-phobic people come in each day, Ledrew says.  

She says it’s important to try to get someone’s experience right the first time because the stress and anxiety from the visit can compound and make people unwilling to try to get a needle again.  

“We really need to pay attention to the fears that people have and trying to help support them in whatever capacity,” she said. 

Facing your fears

At the age of 31, Amrita Nayak cannot stand the sight of needles, even in a sewing kit. 

In May, Amrita lined up for 40 minutes at a large vaccination clinic in Calgary and got her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Standing in line for 40 minutes as people talked about needles and receiving the jab while surrounded by other people also getting needles was an experience that left her upset and shaking.

“I could not look away from it, and I knew I was going to embarrass myself in front of everyone. So that made me really uncomfortable,” she said. 

Her second dose was much better. 

At her request, her husband made an appointment for her to receive the shot in a private cubicle and kept it a secret until the last minute. Having less time to become anxious about the needle and getting jabbed in private, she says, helped her control her anxiety. 

She is now fully vaccinated and shares her story of getting the shot in an online needle-phobia community to encourage more people to get the vaccine as soon as they can. 

“There are very, very few people out there who understand what it feels like to be really scared of something that you cannot avoid,” she said. 

If you have a phobia, Public Health experts recommend that before you get vaccinated, you:

  • Communicate with nurses about your fears.
  • Ask to go outside for some fresh air.
  • Practice breathing techniques.
  • Ask if there’s a private place where the vaccine can be administered. 

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No new Covid-19 cases reported in Northwest Territories – Cabin Radio

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The NWT on Friday reported no new cases of Covid-19, only the third day of reporting to come back blank since the territory’s latest Delta-variant outbreak began in mid-August.

The active case count across the territory dropped from 42 to 35. Twenty-eight are in Tuktoyaktuk – which now has a rabies warning to contend with – while four are in Yellowknife and one each in Inuvik, Norman Wells, and Hay River.

There was no change to the number of hospitalizations, intensive care admissions, or deaths.

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Meanwhile, the World Health Organization on Friday dubbed the globe’s latest variant of concern Omicron.

Omicron, identified in South Africa, has a large number of mutations. Early evidence suggests it could be significantly more transmissible than Delta and present an increased reinfection risk.

However, the amount of evidence related to Omicron is low. The variant was only identified last week and the number of cases studied to date numbers in the low dozens.

Some countries, including Canada, moved swiftly on Friday to impose travel restrictions on South Africa and neighbouring nations.

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Canada currently has no direct flights to or from the affected region, but nevertheless banned the entry of all foreign nationals who have travelled through South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, or Eswatini in the past 14 days.

Some observers criticized the rush to travel bans, arguing South Africa was in effect being punished for operating a particularly effective variant surveillance program.

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Kids on P.E.I. receive first vaccinations against COVID-19 – CBC.ca

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One hundred and thirty children in P.E.I. received the COVID-19 vaccine on Friday — the first day the shot was available to five to 11-year-olds.

A pediatric vaccine clinic was held at the County Fair Mall in Summerside, P.E.I.

“I think it’s important because it can help protect others,” said 10-year-old Alex DesRoche. “I was worried that I’d get COVID and spread it to my papa … because he has cancer.”

Her mom, Robin DesRosche, is happy to have gotten her daughter vaccinated. 

Robin DesRosche (left) stands with her daughter Alex. DesRosche says it’s a relief to get her daughter vaccinated. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

“At any point in time, something can weigh in on your family and if you can do anything to try to prevent it, as a parent, I would,” said DesRoche. 

There are 13,000 kids in the five to 11 age group in the province, and 2,500 have appointments booked so far. 

Madeline Goguen, 10, said she was a little nervous to get the shot, but in the end, she said it didn’t hurt and was well worth it. 

“I’m excited because it’s been a while since I’ve gone on vacation,” Goguen said. “It was just quick. It was a tiny pinch and that was it.”

Getting the vaccine will make going to see her dad in New Brunswick less stressful, she said. 

“Every time that I had to get tested I was always worried,” said Goguen.

Her mother, LeAnne Weeks, shares that sense of relief.

LeeAnn Weeks (left) gives a thumbs up next to her daughter Madeline Goguen. Weeks says getting vaccinated is the right thing to do. (Steve Bruce/CBC )

“Now that Madeline is done, that’s our whole family, and we’re just excited that we feel safe now,” Weeks said. 

The clinic has been set up just for kids and other community clinics will be too. With decorations from the movie Frozen and a free toy with every shot, it’s about making the kids feel more comfortable. 

“I think kids and adults too are a little bit nervous about coming and getting needles, even if they know they really want it, and need it,” said Marion Dowling, chief of nursing on P.E.I. 

“We just want to make it as welcoming as possible, and try to give them a bit of privacy with the stations, so they can sit as a family unit, and have the conversation, ask any questions they might have too, and be comfortable.” 

PEI’s chief public health officer made an appearance at the clinic on Friday. Dr. Heather Morrison said she’s pleased to see so many parents booking shots for their children. 

Chief of nursing Marion Dowling says more than 1,000 appointments were booked when vaccine registration for children opened on Tuesday. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

“I almost got goosebumps in there. There are children who are excited, there are parents who are that excited. Just to be a part of it was pretty special” Morrison said. 

In a survey by the province, about 70 per cent of parents said they would get their child vaccinated, while others said they were undecided. 

Morrison said she thinks word of mouth will convince many of them to sign up. 

“We know it can influence others if we know that your friends have booked their vaccine,” she said.

“I saw children here today wearing stickers saying, ‘I got my COVID vaccine.’ They will start talking amongst their friends that ‘I got mine, and it feels good.'”

Dr. Heather Morrison says she is getting her kids vaccinated. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Five community clinics across P.E.I. are currently offering the vaccine for five to 11-year-olds. 

In the new year, the plan is to set up school clinics for kids in grades four to six. 

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UK COVID genomics head says new variant likely to come to UK

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It is likely that the new coronavirus variant B.1.1.529, which is spreading in South Africa, will end up in Britain, the head of the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium said on Friday.

A ban on flights from southern Africa came into force in Britain on Friday, and numerous other countries also restricted travel from the region.

“(B.1.1.529 is) something that I would guess is likely to be transmitted into the UK at some point, but it buys that time,” COG-UK Chair Sharon Peacock told reporters.

“I think buying time is important and it’s worthwhile, because we can find out what we need to know about that particular variant.”

Speaking at a briefing with other experts, Peacock praised the quick work of South African scientists who shared what they knew about the variant after a surge in cases centred on Gauteng province.

That early warning could be crucial in preventing the variant taking over rapidly from the Delta variant as the world’s dominant one, even as South Africa bristles at the swift imposition of barriers to travel.

“This is a different circumstance than Delta, and there might be some hope for maybe some amount of containment,” said Jeffrey Barrett, Director of the COVID-19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute.

“The difference really is that the surveillance was so good in South Africa and other nearby countries that they found this, understood that it was a problem, and told the world extremely fast.”

S-GENE CLUE

Peacock said it was important not to assume that the variant had arisen in South Africa just because it had been detected there.

“Variants will fly under the radar in countries where there’s no sequencing capability,” she said.

A distinctive trait known as an “S-gene target failure”, which distinguishes the new variant from Delta, means that PCR tests can give a clue to the presence of the new variant without full genomic sequencing.

However, Wendy Barclay, a virologist who leads the UK National Virology Consortium G2P-UK, cautioned that some other variants also had the trait.

Many parts of Europe have been struggling with high and rising COVID rates for weeks, but Barrett said these were unlikely to be driven by B.1.1.529, even in places with less sequencing.

“They are consistently finding a mix of Delta variant, basically,” he said.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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