Can mental health experts help improve COVID vaccine hesitancy?

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – A little over 65% of Lancaster County is vaccinated against COVID-19, but officials want that number to go up, and our local mental health experts could be the answer.

CHI Health’s Integrated Behavioral Health Specialist, Michael Pella, says he has heard it all when it comes to the COVID vaccine. Over the last year, he’s helped many patients face their fears when it comes to getting the shot.

“There was this hesitancy to receive the vaccine because of the long-term side effects, there was a lot of people concerned about that, and even the short term side effects was a worry for a lot of people,” Pella said.

Pella has also seen hesitancy coming from people politicizing the vaccine, saying they don’t like to be told what to do. He says that’s when you have to show the patient someone else’s perspective.

“Sometimes just making it personal, as you would in any therapy session, can help people really see things less as an issue of ‘people are trying to tell me what to do’ and more of a ‘wow this goes way deeper than that.’ There is more personal investment than just someone trying to tell me what to do,” Pella said.

On some rare occasions, the hesitation has also come from an injection phobia, a fear of getting a shot. It’s a condition experts have seen for years. Pella says they help treat that phobia with cognitive-behavioral therapy or exposure therapy.

“In this case, a needle or the possible injection, and you just kind of gradually expose them to that stimuli until they become more comfortable and it’s less intimidating with the idea of actually receiving the shot,” Pella said.

First and foremost, Pella says he validates the patient and normalizes their feelings. He will look over data and factual information, sometimes even making a pros and cons list.

But sometimes, he says all someone really needs to do is talk it out.

“A lot of times they’ll catch themselves saying things that they would not have caught otherwise and it brings some insight into why they’re making the decision of whether they’re for or against,” Pella said.

If you’re interested in talking with a professional, CHI Health has several options available.

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