A few years back I was scheduled to receive my hospital mandated flu vaccination and I was not happy about it. Although I am a physician and well versed in the importance and necessity of preventive vaccinations, that did not “immunize” me from the all-too-human response of shot anxiety and dread.

When I expressed to the nurse my displeasure about receiving the shot she told me to take heart. She revealed to me, much to my skepticism, that she had a method to render painless shots, a method that had served her well over the years. I was doubtful, but my suspicions were soon to be allayed.

I write about this now for obvious reasons: millions of Americans, if all goes according to plan, are slated to receive one of the many coronavirus vaccines that have come on the market of late. And other than the doubts about the safety, or even motives, surrounding the vaccine, a still-prevalent fear relates to the pain of the injection itself.

I direct this blog not only to the recipients of the vaccine but to those who give it as well, because there are ways, proven by clinical experience, to give vaccinations that are virtually painless. And less pain is what a fatigued and scared populace needs now, don’t you think?

Basically, the key to receiving much less painful shots lies with techniques described in this article, and can be learned easily by anyone charged with giving vaccinations. The keys appear to be deeply massaging the area that will be injected, as well as tapping the area with the back of the fingers or hand and stretching the skin over the area to be injected. In the case of the nurse who injected me, she deeply massaged the area to be injected for a full 20 seconds before giving me my flu vaccination. I sat in pleasure and disbelief as the injection was as she predicted—painless! The theory behind the technique is that the pain fibers in nerves get “tricked” by the deep massage, or tapping and stretching, into thinking that another stimulus is occurring, thus “short-circuiting” the normal pain response to the injection. This phenomenon is not too dissimilar to phantom limb pain, where a missing limb or appendage is still “felt” by the person who has suffered the loss of such a structure. By tricking the sensory nerves, the nervous system delivers messages to the brain that are not what the perceiver would normally experience.

So, if you are scheduled to have to the coronavirus vaccination, talk to the person administering the shot if he/she is aware of any of the techniques listed in the article. And, if you are a shot giver, it would serve you well to learn these techniques, for better compliance and comfort for your patients.

Also, a final word on safety and vaccination. It has been my experience in almost 40 years in clinical medicine that sterility and injections is an important but often overlooked issue. It is crucial that those who give the vaccinations understand the following principles be strictly adhered to:

  • one sterile and new syringe and needle per every patient.
  • if multi-dose vials are used, each new dose loaded into the syringe must be preceded by a wipe of the stopper with an alcohol pad.
  • each used needle and syringe must be properly discarded immediately after use.

What can you the consumer do to protect yourself in this matter? Ask if a new, sterile needle and syringe are being used, and if the vaccine is coming from a multi-dose or single-dose vial…just as you might ask if a practitioner has washed her/his hands before examining you.

With millions of doses heading our way, there will be no room for error in the area of sterility and the mitigation of the risk of infection with unwanted pathogens.

For more with Dr. Sherer, click here for his podcast and video interviews, and here to buy David’s book, Hospital Survival Guide: The Patient Handbook to Getting Better and Getting Out.