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PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Wednesday Wellness: Fear of Vaccinations

Dr. Larry

"Off the Record Q & A with a Local A.M.E."

DR. Larry


This one may be a bit laughable, but I am scared to death of vaccinations. Not sure why. From talking with other crewmembers I have quickly realized I am not alone. Any suggestions for making this process seem easier since we are required to get certain vaccines for international travel?

Don’t feel alone in your fear of vaccinations for there are a number of reasons why people avoid them.

Fear of contracting the actual disease is a common belief. However, this is not possible with most vaccines. The reason? Like a car without an engine, most vaccines are inactivated. The virus in the vaccine has no life so it can't replicate and grow, yet the body is tricked into responding with an immune response which develops protective antibodies.

Mild reactions may still occur due to a local irritation from the shot itself or the preservative in the vaccine, such as thimerosal. Exceptions to this would be chickenpox, shingles, and the live polio vaccines, which could create a mild illness.

There's also the invincible person or those who have a lack of respect for the illness. Many people, not just pilots, feel they don't need vaccines because they have never had the disease, can't get it and never will. Surely some people are simply blessed, however from my health care perspective the most common thing I hear people say in my office is, “I’ve never had this before." Hindsight is said to be 20/20 so when someone contracts an illness, even influenza, they are much more likely to pursue vaccinations next time.

Trust is another concern for many, believing the government, either on their own or in cahoots with the pharmaceutical companies, create the need for vaccines driving Big Business. This is a nifty conspiracy theory because the appropriateness of vaccines are determined on a practical cost versus illness paradigm and there are numerous checks and balances to this approach.

The most common reason why people avoid vaccination may well be needle phobia. Also known as belonephobia, or the fear of sharp objects, this affects up to 10% of the population. For many, it's not just the idea of getting a shot, but how sensitive they are to the actual pain of the shot that’s at the root of their phobia.

Understanding the root cause of the fear generally helps to demystify the process allowing one to work through their concerns. Using logic over emotion is important while not easy to overcome. Generally speaking, when the fear of contracting the illness becomes greater than the fear of the needle or the vaccine, one will proceed. Think about this: in reality, we are all pricked and poked in many ways far more uncomfortable than a quick needle stick. However, our emotions are very powerful in helping us move through life. Good doctors and good pilots use logic and rational decision-making to confront challenging and scary situations every day. Using those same attributes will help you pursue what is necessary to promote optimal wellness!

To your good health,

Dr. Larry.

Advanced Senior AME

Heart Attack and Stroke Prevention

Family and Sports Medicine


  1. Great post! I hate needles, but just had to get about 8 shots for international flying. I did a little research on some of the ailments you can get and it pretty quickly convinced me that no matter how much I may dislike needles(a lot), that it's not worth avoiding them. Thanks for posting!

  2. Thank goodness for vaccines! Some people do seem to get awfully sick from some shots for international travel, though, while others have no problem at all. Great topic, thankyou!

  3. This makes me a feel a bit better about vaccines (which I hate getting too!). Thanks Dr. Larry!

  4. I can deal with vaccines but I always fear that my children might get either an allergic reaction or contract the illness. The pediatrician always ensures me that these cases are extremely rare but I'm a mom so I worry.

    Great post, Karlene. Thank you for sharing!

  5. Daniel, that was pretty smart. I had to get shots to fly international too. Fortunately I don't have a phobia. But I have a daughter who does, and it's not fun.

  6. Thanks for your comment Linda. I actually got sick with my Malaria shots. But then, my immune system was down at the time. Didn't help. Thanks for the comment.

  7. Heather, you've been through so much... I can imagine how much you hate vaccinations. Hopefully you won't need any more.

  8. Angela, this is a huge thing with the kids. The children's vaccinations and the added mercury... which I hear they are taking out... is frightening. Don't tell Dr. Larry, but I won't get a flu shot. Keeping my immune system up instead. Thanks for the comment.

  9. It's funny you mention getting sick... in my class, almost everyone said that they felt really out of energy for a couple days, and at least 3 people actually got sick. I'm very curious what caused it, maybe that's just a lot to introduce into your system at once.

  10. Daniel, I'm not sure... but I had the symptoms of Malaria. I do believe anytime you put some foreign substance in your body, and you don't have the immunity to fight it... as in you're already sick... that your body can't fight the drug.

    In my case, I had been coming off bronchitis, and my chief pilot forced me to get it while still sick. He said if I didn't get my shot, they were taking me off the payroll. I delayed as long as I could, but then opted for the risk.

    Despite that I said it wasn't a good idea, apparently "rules are rules." So... I did it, and got sick and had to call in sick for my OE trip on this plane. Which, wasn't going to any of the said locations, anyway.

    Just be very healthy when you get your shot. You'll have the best chance of getting through it.

  11. No needle phobia at all, but why do I sometimes nearly pass out when they take blood from me? Not scared, and I'll even watch closely with fascination, but then I'm finding myself in a dark, warm, echoing tunnel that feels heavy. Head goes between knees - mostly to hide my total embarrassment! :-D

  12. Tom, my first question is how much blood are they taking out?


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