Coronavirus vaccine - overcoming needle phobia - Avenues Group
30 - 1993-2023

Coronavirus vaccine – overcoming needle phobia

Monday 8th of March 2021

Needle phobia is a common issue for people with learning disability, and is currently creating real jeopardy for their health as the coronavirus vaccine is only available through a syringe.


At Avenues, we’ve been overcoming this barrier through a desensitisation programme, supporting people to accept the needle vaccine in slow, gradual steps.

We’ve shared our experiences with the Care Quality Commission, which will be circulating our methodology and case studies with users of wider learning disability and autism services.

Director of Operations Dan Gower-Smith said: “Our challenge is to make sure the people we support get the benefit of the vaccination programme, and we’re committed to help them overcome anxieties about the needle vaccination, in the interest of their long-term health. This is a complex task but we’ve been delighted by the success of our desensitisation work, which has seen people who have never been able to endure medical treatment before calmly accept the needle vaccine.”

Jane’s desensitisation plan:

We have supported Jane, 34, since 2005. She has severe learning disability with profound autism. Clinicians have been unsuccessful in monitoring her health via blood pressure and blood tests, due to her anxiety which cause self-injurious behaviours.

Day one. Whilst Jane enjoyed her favourite drink and biscuit with her support team the syringe was placed on a paper towel and left in the middle of the table to familiarise her. This was repeated three times throughout the first day.

Day two. Jane pulled the paper towel towards her. With Jane showing some acceptance the team were able to respond and continue with the plan.  The easy read guide was referred back to highlighting to Jane the syringe. Jane was given the opportunity to end the task by placing the guide away.

Day three. Water was placed in the syringe and on Jane noticing the difference she pointed at it. Verbal reassurance was given followed by role modelling from support staff gently plunging the syringe allowing a slow drip of water on to their hands. Jane smiled and said “wet dirty” and wiped the water off. Jane placed the guide away without being asked.

Day four. This started with water in the syringe and a yellow sharps box nearby. Staff placed a small dot (their version of the virus or Jane’s ‘dirt’) with a pen on the top of their arm and then role modelled plunging the syringe of water to wash it away.

Day five. Jane was given the syringe to take the lead and use the syringe on a support worker. Jane successfully washed the dot away. Jane was asked if she wanted to wash her own spot away and declined offering the syringe back to staff.

Day six. Jane proceeded to carry out all the previous learnt routines by herself.

Every one supported at Jane’s service in Kent has now received the vaccine.…&utm_campaign=Weekly+Brief+-+8+March+2021