‘Hang in There a Little Longer,’ Mental Health Expert Advises

COVID-19 vaccine rollout has brought new anxieties, but we shouldn't despair, he says.

‘Hang in There a Little Longer,’ Mental Health Expert Advises

In the U.S. state of Florida, two women reportedly in their thirties and forties disguised as “grannies” recently made national news. They were caught red-handed at a vaccination site, allegedly trying to circumvent the state’s eligibility requirements for what would have been their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. In the state of Georgia, federal agents arrested a man for allegedly selling a US$19 “immune shot” that he said could “lower your risk of COVID-19.” With COVID-19 vaccines slowly becoming available, stories of deception and desperation are becoming common as pandemic-fatigued Americans grow more anxious to be vaccinated.

Luis Allen, a psychiatrist and medical director of AdventHealth’s Center for Behavioral Health, said the anxiety and desperation that builds for some while waiting for the opportunity to be vaccinated can affect their mental health.

“We really are hungry for normalcy, and even in the best of moments, from a mental health standpoint, there can be increased anxiety,” Allen said. “With the anticipation of the vaccines, which is great news, there can be a propensity to be more anxious, and we have to be able to help people navigate this good news, so it does not to some degree work against them.”

In the months preceding the initial vaccine rollout, many reports and studies reflected widespread hesitancy to take them, with some raising questions about safety and efficacy, causing mistrust. While some hesitancy still exists, the pendulum may be swinging as more and more Americans now want the vaccine, with some resorting to desperate measures to get it.

Recent data across the United States show that the demand for vaccines is growing. An AdventHealth survey of 157,000 people showed that more than 70 percent of respondents reported a positive likelihood of getting the vaccine in February 2021, up from 46 percent in October 2020. But with the vaccine rolling out in phases and not enough supply for everyone at once, anticipation, frustration, and desperation are mounting. 

Just over a year since the pandemic began, it has continued to take a toll on people’s mental health. With increased depression, isolation, and anxiety spurred by lockdowns and financial and other pressures, health experts and the public see the vaccines as a light at the end of the tunnel.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of March 22, 2021, more than 127 million doses have been administered, with just 24.9 percent of the U.S. population having received one or more doses. With the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine recently receiving emergency use authorization, there is hope that vaccine access and the speed at which they are distributed and administered will be increased.

For those who are experiencing pandemic fatigue and anxiety while waiting for a vaccine, Allen urges them to hang in there a little longer.

“This is a marathon, not a sprint, and it’s important to keep that marathon pace,” Allen said. “It’s also important to remember all the steps you’ve taken over the past year to stay healthy and pat yourself on the back for sticking with them. But keep your guard up for just a little longer, because we are moving closer to the finish line.”

The original version of this story was posted on the AdventHealth news site.