Patients With Vaccine-Related Fears May Be at Greater Risk of Falling, Injury at Vaccine Injection Sites

People who are afraid of shots or feel lightheaded and dizzy while near vaccine injection sites are less likely to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

In patients with vaccine-related fears, there is a reduced likelihood of pursuing vaccinations against COVID-19 and an increased likelihood of dizziness and lightheadedness at vaccination sites, according to investigators from a long-term study on vaccine-related fears and flu shot outcomes. The investigators noted that they believe interventions are necessary to address these fears and the potential for dizziness and lightheadedness during vaccination.

“Interventions could be developed that help people face fears—people who want to get vaccinated but have fears holding them back,” said study authorJennifer Kowalsky, assistant professor of psychology at The Ohio State University Newark campus,in a press release. “Beyond targeting fears, we could also improve the experience when the person is getting vaccinated to reduce the risk and severity of symptoms.”

The World Health Organization recommends a technique called applied muscle tension to counter lightheadedness. By crossing the legs and repeatedly tightening the core and lower body muscles, patients briefly raise blood pressure and facilitate a constant flow of oxygen to the brain.

In a 2018 study, Kowalsky analyzed this technique for people who fear blood and needles, discovering that it reduced their dizzying vasovagal symptoms. In her current study, Kowalsky conducted 3 surveys over approximately 2 years. Starting in October 2019, she asked 2508 participants aged 18 years and older about the existence and severity of any vaccine- and blood draw-related fears.

In May and June of 2020, 1077 participants answered questions about the degree of faintness, dizziness, or weakness they experienced at their last flu shot. Kowalsky also asked participants about their intentions with the COVID-19 vaccine, surveying this same question in June and July of 2021, when the vaccine was being rolled out throughout the country.

According to her findings, younger participants reported greater vaccine-related fears, greater dizziness, and more feelings of lightheadedness during and after a flu shot. Overall, participants experienced more intense symptoms of dizziness or lightheadedness if they experienced a greater level of fear.

“These symptoms have health and safety implications, because they increase the risk of falling,” Kowalsky said. “For clinicians, it’s relevant to have this in mind that fear can predict those reactions. If someone shares they are feeling fearful, keeping a close eye on them is important because they may be at risk for those feelings of dizziness or lightheadedness.”

Kowalsky found that regular vaccine-related fears lowered vaccine intentions in the forthcoming years as well. Regarding the COVID-19 vaccination, reported fear and feelings of dizziness and lightheadedness during the 2019 to 2020 flu shot season lowered their desire to get an available coronavirus vaccination.

Vaccinations have dropped globally since 2020, and Kowalsky’s prosocial background is propelling her research to investigate the influence of fear and vasovagal symptoms on vaccinations.

“People who are afraid to have blood drawn still give blood, and people who are afraid of vaccines still get vaccinated…But knowing some don’t go through with getting a subsequent shot creates intervention opportunities to address the effect of fear on vaccine adopters.,” Kowalsky said in the press release. “Their experience matters.”


How vaccine-related fears affect the flu shot experience. Ohio State University; July 21, 2022. Accessed July 25, 2022.

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