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A COVID-19 vaccine: It’s about more than physical health

The physical threat of COVID-19 is clear, which is why many Americans have spent the better part of a year quarantining and social distancing. With time, it has also become evident that the pandemic is having another serious health effect: mental health challenges.

Strains on mental health have both short- and long-term consequences. First, the fear of getting physically sick and the isolation of quarantining are taking a toll on many individuals’ mental wellbeing. In one survey, 53 percent of Americans reported their mental health has been negatively affected due to COVID-19-related worry and stress. Second, and perhaps more important, are the long-term negative mental health effects of COVID-19. One researcher from the University of British Columbia estimates that life will not return to normal for approximately 10 to 15 percent of people due to their diminished mental wellbeing.

In the words of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “the best way to prevent long-term complications is to prevent COVID-19,” something many people have been doing in their quarantining and social distancing efforts. We now have a new tool in the prevention toolbox: a vaccine.

Americans’ views on the COVID-19 vaccine

Not all Americans are willing to get vaccinated. Approximately 60 percent of Americans say they would definitely or probably get vaccinated, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Of the remaining 40 percent who say they definitely or probably would not get vaccinated, almost half of that group (18 percent) report they would possibly get vaccinated as more information becomes available. Factors that influence the decision one way or the other include trust in the vaccine development process; the level of personal concern around getting a serious case of COVID-19; and personal practices regarding other vaccines, such as the flu shot.

Tips to manage vaccine hesitancy

As individuals contemplate the decision to get a vaccine, they should consider mental health along with physical health. As more and more people get vaccinated, individuals’ fear of getting sick wanes, and they gain more confidence in returning to a life they once lived. Over time, that renewed confidence means returning to shops and restaurants; travelling; reuniting with families and friends; going to the movies; attending sports events and more.

The downstream effect? An improved economy, more stability, and a return to our healthier physical, psychological and emotional selves.

Mental Health America (MHA) provides advice to healthcare workers – some of the professionals first in line to get the vaccine – on how to manage any hesitancy they may have about getting vaccinated. For other people concerned about the COVID-19 vaccine, the advice still applies.

  • Do your research. Identify what is worrying you about the vaccine and then learn as much as you can about that concern, such as side effects, how the vaccine works etc.
  • Stay current. Keep up with progress around the vaccine but be sure that your resources are reliable. MHA recommends sticking with a vetted vaccine tracker.
  • Look to officials whom you trust for information. For many people, that is their primary care physician. On the national scene, it might be the CDC or the World Health Organization.
  • Weigh benefits against the risk. Doing your research will help you to do so.
  • Make decisions in your best interest. Take time with your decision. If you’re not a healthcare worker or like professional, you have the time to gather and assess all of the factors and decide what is best for you.

Many decisions are some form of a cost/benefit analysis. Beacon Health Options asks that, as individuals weigh the decision for themselves, they consider mental health as an important factor in that decision – their own and that of their communities.


23 Comments. Leave new

I don’t know about the rest of the country, but in Southern CA, we’re having problems getting appointments and knowing how to secure the vaccine. Our websites to sign up have very little information.

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Marilyn Bennett
January 27, 2021 5:09 pm

There is a lot of stress involved with those who Have made the decision to be vaccinated but can’t manage to get an appointment. Here in Florida, the Floridaheath govenment portal is only available to those who have a phone with texting capabilities. People must send a text and then get a text that lets them know when and where to log in to make an appointment. No ability to text, too bad for you. Publix (a Florida grocery store with in-house pharmacies that do covid vaccinations) has a portal that is accessible with a computer and will let you know when to appointments will be available. However one of my elderly clients reports that she has just (for the 3rd time) spent an hour staring at a message that the website was “open” but “full” and would let her make an appointment as soon as possible while watching over 3000 available appointments for her county disappear before her eyes between 6 and 7 AM yet again. I have had the same experience. The distress that she feels is overwhelming her coping skills!

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Thank you for this excellent article. I can relate to the human experience you describe in dealing with COVID and his it affects our mental health. Your suggestions for how to make a well-reasoned decision regarding the vaccine are very useful and doable.

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Kenneth Anthony LMHC,LADC1
January 27, 2021 5:12 pm

I received my first shot Monday 1/22/21 and I have not had any side effects to date and I am looking forward to my second shot on 2/13/21. I have not decided to see clients in my office due to other people in my office who have not received their vaccine shots and I feel uncomfortable having them exposed to potential virus conditions. In the future I will accept clients in my office who have received the two shot protocol vaccine and continue to see all others via telehealth.

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The practice of only seeing vaccinated clients in person is discrimination. If you are vaccinated, you should be fine, right? This is a very slippery slope and deserves careful consideration.

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Evalynne Elias, LCSW, BCD
January 29, 2021 7:00 am

The practice of seeing only vaccinated individuals in one’s office is a safety precaution. If one were to see an individual in person who has not been vaccinated there is no way of knowing whether or not that person is an asymptomatic carrier or not. This could put other clients similarly unvaccinated at risk. I don’t want to be responsible for making sure to sanitize my entire office space, entrance doorknobs, bathroom, waiting room, ventilation system, etc. between clients. Like Kenneth Anthony, I am also considering seeing only those who have been fully vaccinated in my office space.

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Evalynne Elias, LCSW, BCD
January 29, 2021 7:11 am

While we therapists who have been vaccinated may be fine, there is no research yet determining whether or not we can still be carriers. Therefore, to have in person sessions with someone who has not been vaccinated has the potential of putting the client at risk for Covid. Seems to me it would remain best practice to see those who are unvaccinated via telehealth. That seems a better alternative than trying to do therapy with both the client and the therapist wearing masks when reading body language and facial expressions are such an important component of good therapy.

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As a psychotherapist, I never try to persuade my clients to go in any direction. Rather, I feel my job is to help them access their own most enlightened path to peace, however that looks. For some it is to get vaccinated. For others it involves detaching from mainstream society and refusing a vaccination. All choices are honored in my practice.

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This is beautiful, thank you thank you thank you for saying this 🙏🙏🙏

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This is an extremely helpful take on the full benefits of the vaccine. I have had one client receive a first vaccine (elderly, immune compromised) and there has clearly been a psychological benefit – decrease in anxiety.

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Gerilyn Sestok
January 27, 2021 6:25 pm

There are no appointments anywhere in NY. Are LCSW-R social worker essential worker? My clients would like to see me in person. I can’t see them in person until I have the vaccine. I am 75 years old.

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I received the vaccine last week. I am a 55 yo LMSW in Michigan and so considered a Healthcare worker. You might try your county health department. Good luck!

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Sandra Negron
January 27, 2021 6:39 pm

I am a psychologist in New York. I got my first vaccine dose on 1/14, and had been somewhat ambivalent about getting it, though I knew that I eventually would. Boy am I glad that I went through with it. By the time it was my appointment date, the criteria for eligibility had widened to include over 75, over 65, teachers, etc. Now, several sites have had to close due to a lack of supply, and I am worried about whether I will be able to get my second dose. I find that getting the vaccine has helped me to feel calmer, less afraid about getting infected, though I am still working remotely, and certainly mask up and social distance. Yesterday, of my first 4 clients for the day (virtual sessions), 2 of them shared that they are currently Covid +. It was a sobering reminder that the virus is still actively circulating, and is still very much a danger, even though almost a year has passed. Having the vaccine, helps me to cope with the fear of this unseen thing that I can not control. Though I do not try to influence clients regarding their decision, when they ask me if I have gotten it, it offers them additional data, with which to contemplate their own comfort level.

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Like others, news of a vaccine felt joyful to me. To be able to eventually return to social engagement with others without masks – again, eventually – felt hopeful. Getting a vaccine will be the challenge, as others have commented. As a phase 2 member, I know it will happen. Patience is needed. Perseverance is also needed in whatever form, e.g., getting on a county health department notification and vaccine list, or reaching out to primary care. However, there will be clients who do not want to get a vaccination. Mask and social distancing protocols will be continued in my psychotherapy practice for those who do or do not get the vaccination until there is certainty that even with a vaccine I would not be at risk of delivering covid-19 to clients. Telehealth as a recent personal discovery during the covid era will continue to be a way to deliver services to those who need them.

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I encourage others to get the vaccine if they are open to it. Unfortunately in New Jersey it is almost impossible to get an appointment for the vaccine especially for those over 65. I hope it opens up soon.

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I hope to get the vaccine soon.

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On a different note,,it seems It may be “about more than physical health”, “for some, psychosis follows Covid” as seen in the bellucks article in the Science Times (NYT 12/29) as Dr. Hisam Goueli and others have found in patients with no prior mental illness history or psychiatric symptoms. Important for us as clinicians to be aware of… Another mental health factor to consider when making the decision to vaccinate or not..(small number of cases so far) in addition to all that was well said above..

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It is important to continue to learn and educate oneself as much as possible. For those that cannot do that research themselves, it is even more important for those of us that can to do our part.

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Deborah Mikita
January 28, 2021 3:44 am

My research finds that the prevailing wisdom is that the vaccine will not return us to a state of normalcy because (1) vaccinated individuals can still be carriers of C-19 and (2) new and more virulent strains are emerging and there is no data on the effectiveness of the vaccine against new strains. It is important to remember that these vaccines are still experimental. (https://www.msn.com/en-us/health/medical/why-do-you-have-to-wear-a-mask-even-after-getting-the-covid-vaccine-here-s-what-experts-say/ar-BB1cYnAJ). In fact, the latest recommendations are that people should double and triple mask and maintain social distancing. My concern is that our mental health suffers when we are unable to effectively adapt to changing circumstances in a way that maintains quality of life, which has been the case for almost a year. Another concern is that if we promote the rationale that the vaccine is a means to return to normalcy, when all signs thus far are that this will not be the case, the result may be further discouragement. Yes, we can encourage people to engage in cost/benefit analysis of the vaccine. But, I think it unwise to associate it with a return to what once was. That does not seem in our control. Perhaps it is better to primarily focus on the stress caused by constant adjustment and the grief associated with the loss of normalcy.

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I am fortunate the agency I work for is an FQHC and vaccines were available to our staff. I have received both injections. I feel it’s our responsibility to share updated information with our patients, respecting the final decision is theirs. In our area vaccines are coming slow, and the waiting lists are growing with people becoming more anxious. For those who chose not to get the injection, we must encourage following CDC guidelines seriously as we will continue to follow. This article has good information to share with staff as well as patients.

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Alouette Iselin
January 28, 2021 8:03 pm

I have at least one client (she’s a nurse) who believes that the vaccine contains antifreeze. Another client has a daughter who is a covid ICU nurse, who believes the vaccine changes your DNA. Neither of them will take the vaccine, and neither of them will listen to me. They’re medical professionals, after all.

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Ruth Jacobson
January 28, 2021 9:03 pm

We are extremely blessed in the State of Connecticut. Aside from a few minor issues, the
vaccination program is going very well. My husband and I received our first vaccination yesterday, January 27th, without a whisper of a problem. I do admit that, being highly allergic/sensitive to some medications and vaccines, I did my homework and then decided to go ahead with it. Our senior friends and neighbors are also pleased and grateful to obtain the vaccine. I have helped a few clients to register, as this is sometimes difficult to navigate.

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Rosemary Flanagan
January 31, 2021 8:19 pm

Very difficult to get an appointment in NY and I am part of the first group; and I qualify based on age as well…

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