KITCHENER -- Receiving a COVID-19 vaccine could cause anxiety from people with a fear of needles.

“Even just talking about it, I get a little uneasy,” said Guelph resident Terri Rowan, who is needle phobic.

Rowan said symptoms include a fast heart rate, sweaty hands, light-headedness and nausea.

“It’s been a life-long thing for me.”

So when it came to getting her COVID-19 vaccine in April, she took weeks to mentally prepare and had a friend drive her to the appointment.

“The first thing that I said when I sat down, more as a warning to the person giving the vaccine ‘You should be aware, I’m really needle phobic and there’s a chance I might pass out,’” said Rowan.

She struggles with blood injection injury phobia, also known as needle phobia. According to Christine Purdon, a psychology professor at the University of Waterloo, up to 20 per cent of the population has some fear of needles.

“It can range from being like ‘I don’t want to do this but I’m going to anyway,' to actually declining medical care,” said Purdon.

Those refusing the COVID-19 vaccine could impact the ability to achieve herd immunity.

“The question is not whether it will have an impact, the question is the magnitude of that impact,” said Ahmad Firas Khalid, a health policy expert at Laurier University.

While it’s too early to know, Khalid said it needs to be addressed.

“Will this fear of contracting COVID-19 which is a very deadly pandemic, outweigh the anxiety of needles?”

To help those with needle phobia, Purdon suggests early exposure ahead of an appointment.

“Just spend time looking at pictures of people getting the actual vaccination, look at realistic needles that are used," Pardon said. "It’s actually very small, very slender, very tiny.”

Purdon also recommends consulting a mental health expert and trying to reframe your thoughts around needles.

“Your anxiety is going to be talking, magnifying every aspect of that situation and we need to bring the intellectual brain to say, ‘You’re doing a good deed for yourself and a good deed for society. It’s the only way this virus will go away.’”

Another tip is to plan a reward after the vaccination.

At the vaccination site, she suggests staying occupied with a distraction like a smartphone and for those who may get light-headed to regulate your blood pressure.

“Squeeze your hands, in what we call applied tension, so squeeze your fists very, very tightly and that keeps your blood pressure up.”

Rowan found it helpful to focus on the importance of getting the shot. "

It was like a little pinch," she said. "I think I was more startled than anything because I was anxious.”

She said it was also helpful that the paramedic who administered the shot was compassionate.

As she waits for her second dose, she said she feels less anxious now that she’s experienced the first shot.