Evolving information and rollout plans create new coronavirus stress
News about COVID-19 vaccines seems to change daily. Who can get them? Where are they given? Who do I ask? How do I get in line? Are there enough? Who’s in charge?
On and on.
“There is an awful lot of anxiety everywhere about how to get the vaccine,” said UC Davis Health clinical psychologist Kaye Hermanson. “And it’s valid. There are real reasons to be anxious – we’re in a pandemic, we’re uncertain where and when we’re going to get our vaccine, and the information seems to be in flux. Who wouldn’t be anxious?”
So Hermanson’s first bit of advice for dealing with this Vaccine Anxiety chapter of COVID Fatigue is this: Understand that your exhaustion and uncertainty are rational. Then take a deep breath. Remind yourself that we are moving in the right direction.
“Positive thoughts really can help in uncertain times,” she said. “We all need to hang in there. We have more hopeful days ahead, we just can’t rush them.”
Accepting your uncertainty about vaccine rollout
“We don’t like uncertainty,” Hermanson said. “When something makes us anxious, we like to figure out the cause. That gives us a little sense of control.”
At least for a while, that control will be in short supply. So, take the second-best option: Acknowledge the uncertainty and try to accept it, for now.
“It helps to recognize that this is a time when not everything is clear,” Hermanson said. “Just know it’s OK not to have all the answers. Remind yourself, it will take a little bit of time, but things will become clear.”
— Kaye Hermanson
Part of the anxiety comes from the sense that the rules are constantly changing as guidance continues to evolve on vaccine delivery amounts and eligibility. This is because state and federal health officials are still ramping up revised rollout programs.
“Often when we’re anxious, we assume someone took their hands off the steering wheel,” she said. “Just because some directions from our government change, that doesn’t make them invalid. We’re all learning as we go along. Change is a normal consequence.”
Distribution is getting organized
Don’t forget, Hermanson said, vaccine distribution is still very new. It’s been a bit more than a month since the first shot was given.
“A new federal administration is taking over with a focus on COVID-19,” she said. “The state just announced a California-wide effort. Priorities and delivery systems continue to evolve, just like the science around COVID-19 has evolved.”
For a touch of perspective, think about the enormous progression in efforts to treat and prevent COVID-19.
“A year ago, most of us had never heard of COVID-19,” Hermanson said. “Look at how much has changed.”
Avoid the panic
The uncertainty, however, “can build a little sense of panic,” she said. “It’s like Black Friday. The more you think about it, the more you worry that you won’t get that Beanie Baby, or whatever that toy was we all felt so desperate to get.
“Here’s what we can tell ourselves,” Hermanson said. “There is going to be enough vaccine for everyone. Our turn will come.”
For people whose jobs or businesses are endangered, waiting is frustrating, Hermanson said. “Unfortunately, there aren’t many other options, so the best anyone can do is try not to make themselves feel worse,” she said.
More tips to reduce anxiety about when you’ll get your COVID-19 vaccine
- Be compassionate toward yourself. “Acknowledge that you’re anxious and tell yourself it’s normal,” Hermanson said. “Keep doing everything you’ve been doing, like exercising or connecting with people, to feel less stressed.”
- Be compassionate toward others. “Try not to look for people to blame,” she said. “Recognize that the people working to roll out the vaccine are putting in enormous hours. What they’re doing is hard. Being upset with them doesn’t make anything happen faster.”
- Remind yourself how much you’ve already endured. “We’ve got to hang tough for just a while longer,” Hermanson said. “You’re well-practiced at this. You have the skills. We can see the finish line from here. Just stay safe.”
— Kaye Hermanson
- Take control of your information flow. Media reports can be helpful, but they also ratchet up the adrenaline. And social media is flooded with scams and falsehoods. Do your own research on real science sites, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Go to California’s My Turn website to learn about signing up for a vaccination.
- “Try to ease the noise level,” she said. “Give yourself regular days or times to check the county and state websites. And check your health provider’s site. UC Davis Health has very comprehensive COVID-19 and vaccination pages.”
- Trust the science and the scientists about vaccine safety and effectiveness. “They were both carefully studied,” Hermanson said. “Millions of people have already gotten shots and there were just a tiny, tiny number of serious reactions. Getting COVID-19 is far more dangerous.”
The simplest cure for our vaccine anxiety would be knowing the date we’re going to get our shot, even if it were a few months away.
“Any kind of certainty will make us feel better,” Hermanson said. “So, pick a reasonable, but slightly later, date. Tell yourself that by, say, June 1, you’ll be vaccinated or have an appointment. That isn’t much, but you’d be surprised how much calmer that will make you feel.”