Episode 12 – Scared of needles? Science has some answers.

With vaccination rates currently a topic of daily conversation, Aleena and Janine have been looking into what factors might be behind poor vaccination rates in some settings. They are surprised to find that fear or phobia of needles could be an important contributor to vaccine hesitancy. They also got their square on when voluntary primary-school level maths practice took over at their recent lunch date.

Mastering of this episode, plus intro and outro music, by the ever-talented Dr Adrian Diery.

Who gets needle fear?

Aleena covers a systematic review on fear of needles that summarises previous research on who gets needle fear and how common it is.

As you probably expected, needle fear is most common in kids. Needle fear decreases as we age – it’s seen in less than 5% of the elderly population. It seems to be more common in girls than in boys and more common in women than in men. This fits with other research showing that women are more likely than men to have a range of phobias. Even people who have needles fairly often due to certain health conditions or medical treatments (like diabetes and chemotherapy) can have high rates of needle fear.

Aleena found it pretty striking that 16% of adults avoided the flu vaccination because of needle fear. That’s around 1 in 6! It’s pretty clear that needle fear isn’t all that rare. It’s also clear that we need to do more to reduce needle fear. When it comes to vaccination, alternatives to needles are sometimes an option, including a “needle-free jet injector”. Cool right?

McLenon J, Rogers MAM. (2019). The fear of needles: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 75(1): 30-42.

Understanding the prevalence of needle fear and needle phobia is really important for addressing vaccination hesitancy during the current covid-19 pandemic (as discussed in this neat new paper).

How might needle fear develop?

It seems that many fears and phobias develop between ages 4 and 6. Janine summarises a super interesting study showing that children in this age range, who had multiple needles on a single day, had a much higher chance of developing needle fear, or a full-blown needle phobia. Children who only ever had single needles on any given day between ages 4 and 6 did not develop high levels of fear around needles. The study also showed that needle fear possibly reduced the likelihood that children would go on to get the HPV vaccine in their teens.

Baxter, A. L., Cohen, L. L., Burton, M., Mohammed, A., & Lawson, M. L. (2017). The number of injected same-day preschool vaccines relates to preadolescent needle fear and HPV uptake. Vaccine, 35(33), 4213–4219.

What can we do about needle fear?

Making the injection schedule as stress-free as possible for children aged 4-6 is pretty important. Wherever possible, we should probably try to avoid giving multiple needles on a single day within this age group.

Newer technologies that minimise pain and distress during injections will hopefully become more commonplace in time. These might help prevent fear from developing in the first place, and could also reduce stress for those already fearful of needles. Examples include microneedles, skin patches, nasal sprays, and even virtual-reality based distraction techniques!

From age 4 upwards, we should try not to hold children down for needles, and we should try to line up a whole suite of distractions and fun activities for afterwards, so there are positive associations laid down. Btw, Janine’s go-to is a good old bakery treat 🙂

What brought out our inner square?

Aleena is hooked on the new Australian series of Celebrity Letters and Numbers. Comedians and other witty celebs competing against each other in a test of their language and numerical skills – what more could a square want?! Aussie listeners have their next Saturday night planned (you’re welcome).

Janine also, and completely independently, wanted to wax lyrical about Letters and Numbers, and especially numbers-queen Lily Serna! At a recent lunch date, Janine and Aleena ended up with Janine’s 9-year-old teaching them the super fun and nifty “split strategy” for addition. It’s definitely not how they were taught addition at school! Check out this video and if your kids aren’t being taught this way, get onto it!

They also talked about the pain and trauma of not understanding long division at around age 10. Janine recalls some expert tuition she received at around age 16 and is excited to teach everyone. This video is highly recommended if you’d like to finally learn how to do it, if your kids are struggling with it, or if you just wanna have a laugh…

And yes, this is quite possibly the most squarey inner square segment yet.

Also, if you somehow don’t already know: you can do your 9 times tables on your hands and Amazon river dolphins are pink.

Image by CDC on Unsplash

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