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Proximity to other humans – a new fear?



Last weekend, feeling some trepidation as if I was a student nurse again, I worked my first shift as a vaccinator, supervised by a colleague who signed off my competences. It was an amazing afternoon when I felt very lucky to be involved and to do face to face nursing after a year of working delivering training on line.


The clinic, in a large community hall, was supported by amazing volunteers organising parking and guiding people safely through the building to then be called forward by those of us vaccinating when we were available. That afternoon there was a steady stream of people for over 3 hours and all grateful to be there (although there was an England v Wales Rugby match on).


In all of those who arrived at my table to be vaccinated I noticed signs of stress. Initially I thought that this must be due to their fear of needles or the vaccination. I was slightly bemused when I asked them and very few said they were concerned about the procedure.


Then, one man arrived at my station and as I invited him to sit down and he said that I was the first person he had been this close to for over a year. Then the penny dropped for me. What I was noticing was a fear of being near others. I thought back to my own first vaccination three weeks before, in a large and busy ‘hub’ and remembered how bewildering I found it. As someone who had been working from home for the past year I instinctively tried to move my chair away from the nurses taking my details and drawing up the injection.


This piece from the Guardianconsiders how the pandemic, with its lockdowns and requirements to socially distance and stay away from others, may rewire our brains. We humans are social animals but we have had to radically change this over the past year. More than that, we have become afraid of others who all now pose a threat and source of infection. Contact with others sets off our internal threat response and prepares us to deal with danger. When I shop, I am continually alert, scanning other people and putting as much distance between me and those who are not wearing their masks correctly.


We are asking people to stay away from others, especially those who are older and more vulnerable, for good reason. Then we suddenly ask them to attend for the vaccination. For many the very process of being vaccinated and having to come in to contact with others is a big ordeal, although they have been desperately waiting for it.


Proximity to others is required to vaccinate or be vaccinated but for many may be a difficult experience, yet they still come, for themselves and for the sake of others. Those of us vaccinating might take note of this and consider how we can provide the most vaccinations to the most people as quickly and efficiently as possible but balanced with recognising many will find the whole experience very stressful.

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