As a clinical social worker at a large healthcare organization, I was afforded the opportunity to get the COVID-19 vaccine as a priority group member. When I first received an email asking me to schedule an appointment for my vaccine, I was hesitant. I ultimately decided to get the vaccine. I had two successful doses of the Pfizer vaccine in January and I am happy to say that I only had minimal side effects. As I write this article, I am still doing well and I am grateful for the peace of mind the vaccine has given me.
Are you still considering whether or not you want to get the COVID-19 vaccine? Values based decision making may help you decide.
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Values based decision making comes from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). In ACT, values are considered to be the foundation of the therapeutic process and are used to cultivate a meaningful life. During ACT, your therapist may ask you to consider your personal values. Values can include things or people you feel connected to, how you would like to contribute to society or things you are passionate about. Once your values have been established, goals can be set and decision making may become easier.
Values Based Decision Making and the COVID-19 Vaccine
What are your values when it comes to your health and lifestyle?
For me, my health related values are rooted in a commitment to holistic health approaches. It is important to me to prioritize natural remedies and products to enhance my health. I also value eating a clean diet rich in natural and organic whole foods, exercise and rest. While all of these practices can be helpful in reducing my risk of contracting COVID-19, I accepted the fact that these approaches can be enhanced by medical intervention. I also believe that true holistic health includes medical interventions like a vaccine.
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From a lifestyle perspective, my family is very important to me. Many of my close family members are at high risk for contracting the COVID-19 virus based on factors to include health status and age. Getting vaccinated allows me to safely spend time with my family without worrying about infecting them.
I also value service. I saw getting vaccinated as a way to do my part in mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic. As a public health professional, it is important for me to lead by example by getting my vaccine. Most importantly, I wanted to engage with the patients I serve as safely as possible.
Additional ACT Principles and COVID-19
The decision to get the COVID-19 vaccine is personal and may feel overwhelming. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the vaccine or the pandemic, mindfulness may help. Mindfulness is another key element of ACT. Engaging in mindful breathing or a grounding exercise are examples of mindfulness.
Mindfulness helps us detach from our thoughts. This detachment allows for anxious thoughts to occur instead of fighting against them. This is known as acceptance in ACT. For example, while mindfully breathing or noticing your senses, you may reframe an anxious thought like “I am worried about COVID-19” by instead thinking “I am having a thought that I am worried about COVID-19”. This reframe separates you from your thoughts and may reduce its negative impacts.
Once you feel grounded again, define your values. Use those values to help you make a decision that best aligns with those values.
Additional Vaccine Considerations:
Waiting for Your Vaccine
If you have already decided that you would like to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, you may not be able to receive the vaccine right away. Many states have identified vaccine priority groups. Populations to include healthcare workers and seniors have been identified as phase 1 and 2 priority groups in some states. Due to vaccine shortages, some states are still working to vaccinate the first and second phase priority groups. If you start to feel anxious while waiting for your turn to be vaccinated, it may be helpful to focus on things you can control to reduce your risk like wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, eating a healthy diet and exercising to boost your immune system.
If you are not currently eligible for a vaccine, you may consider volunteering at a vaccine clinic or site. Some vaccine sites are in dire need of volunteers and will provide vaccines to volunteers. Vaccine clinics offer clinical roles for nurses and doctors and non-clinical roles for persons that are not qualified to administer vaccines. Non-clinical roles may include administrative tasks like helping vaccine recipients check in for their appointments. Even if you are unable to receive a vaccine in exchange for your service, volunteering is a productive way to distract yourself from your anxiety. Volunteering is also a natural way to boost your mental health as it provides opportunities to cultivate purpose and to develop social connections.
You can search for volunteer opportunities on Google or by contacting your local health department.
Coping with Injection Anxiety
If receiving injections like vaccines causes distress, ask for support. The doctor that administered my first vaccine dose helped distract me by engaging me in conversation. The nurse that gave me my second vaccine dose counted down with me prior to the injection. You may also consider mindful breathing. You can ask the person administering your vaccine to sync the injection with your breathing. Inhale as you prepare for the injection, exhale during the injection. Additionally, focusing on the benefits of the vaccine may help reduce your distress.
How Will the Vaccine Impact Me?
The idea of receiving a new vaccine that was released quickly can be cause for concern. However, it is important to focus on the evidence. This concept comes from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. There is a wealth of evidence to support the safety of COVID-19 vaccines. After the completion of tens of thousands clinical trials, the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines were determined to be safe and effective. (1) At the time that this post was written, nearly 59 million people have been vaccinated according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). People who have been vaccinated report mild or no side effects. (2)
We hope that you continue to be physically and mentally well during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have additional questions about the COVID-19 pandemic or vaccine, you may consider talking to your healthcare provider or seeking out reputable web based resources to include the CDC website.