What causes some people to faint after COVID-19 vaccines? UNC doctor explains

Orange County News

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) — Most of us know someone who gets lightheaded even at the sight of a needle, and doctors say it’s not surprising people are fainting with COVID-19 vaccines, but they are working to prevent it.

Dr. David Wohl, an infectious disease specialist at UNC, says fainting after a shot isn’t unusual.

“We see it with the flu shot, we see it with all types of vaccines,” he noted.

Fainting is a physical reaction to anxiety, pain, or emotional stress. It can happen with various medical procedures, usually involving needles.

“Your heart rate, instead of speeding up as your blood pressure drops, slows down,” explained Wohl. “Every day, there’s people who faint when giving blood, they faint when they’re having their blood drawn for a blood test. That just is very, very human.”

He says in many cases people who faint already feel anxious about the shot.

“Anxiety plays a role,” he said. “I can’t tell you 100% that’s all of it, but the majority of what we’ve seen here is just related to real understandable anxiety.”

He says one of the reasons we likely saw some people faint during recent Johnson & Johnson clinics is that that vaccine appeals to younger people and those with anxiety about needles.

Young people are more prone to fainting, and seeing others getting shots or having a reaction can raise anxiety.

“The power of suggestion can be pretty significant,” said Wohl, adding, “At a mass event in an arena or something like that where you are seeing lots of people getting injected, waiting in line, you’re standing there, that’s a set up.”

He says some people have also fainted after receiving Pfizer and Moderna shots.

At the Friday Center, people prone to fainting can now get their shots in a separate area in a reclining chair.

“That has really helped tremendously,” noted Wohl.

Wake County is also asking additional screening questions and having more medical professionals on hand.

If you’re concerned about fainting, Wohl says his best advice is to hydrate.

“Make sure you have enough volume of blood, which is made up mostly of water — so drink, eat, feel comfortable (and) relax as much as you can.”

Wohl says it’s also important to tell your vaccine provider if you have a history of fainting. They can help make you more comfortable and likely prevent you from passing out.

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