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COVID questions: Long-term protection; overcoming fear of needles

April 14, 2021 By Kristina LeVan

Editor’s note: We will be publishing answers to questions about COVID-19 and the pandemic each week in this COVID questions column. If you have a question, please email it to

Q: Pfizer recently said their vaccine provides protection against COVID-19 for at least 6 months. How will long-term protection be determined? Do we have to wait until vaccinated people start getting sick to know they need another vaccine/booster? And does that mean we can expect to be doing this at least annually, like we do for the flu?

A: The duration of immunity from all the COVID-19 vaccines is still being studied closely. Participants from the original clinical studies that began in spring 2020 continue to be monitored to see how well the vaccines protect against infections, and periodic updates will be issued. Both Moderna and Pfizer have released data that show strong immune protection for at least 6 months. The ongoing monitoring will also address how well the existing vaccines protect against new variants that are now circulating widely. All of the vaccine manufacturers are working on updated vaccines against these variants, in case booster doses need to be modified.  Time will tell whether we will need booster vaccines — and these could be needed either due to waning of immunity or changes in the types of virus circulating. Boosters could be as often as annually, similar to influenza vaccines, or less frequently, like tetanus shots.

—James Conway, Pediatric Infectious Diseases Fellowship Program director and UW–Madison School of Medicine & Public Health Office of Global Health director

Q: I have a fear of needles but would still like to get the COVID vaccine. Any suggestions on how I can prepare for my upcoming shot? 

A: This fear is real and can cause common symptoms like anxiety and worry, and also trigger more severe concerns like full-fledged phobia that can produce fainting or nausea. This is a fight or flight response; it’s normal. We want to try to tackle those thoughts, calm the brain and body down, and help people focus on their motivation to get the vaccine.

Here are a few recommendations on overcoming a fear of needles:

  • Before, during and after vaccination, utilize belly breathing to calm the body.
  • During the vaccination, positive distraction can be useful, like essential oils that trigger positive memories or talking with the person giving the vaccine.
  • Prior to vaccination, focus on positive, hopeful things — for example, getting a vaccination will help family and friends stay safe.

—Victoria Egizio, clinical health psychologist and behavioral health manager at UW Health, from UW Health news