How do you get vaccinated when you’re afraid of needles? This scientist found out first hand

In late May, Samantha Yammine, a Toronto neuroscientist who advocates for vaccines, shared what had become, for her, a source of shame and embarrassment. For much of her life, Yammine had lived with a severe anxiety around needles — a phobia that led her to avoid vaccination for years.As a scientist, Yammine understood the toll of the pandemic and knew mass immunization was the way out. But she was crushed by fear and dread. How could she be a vaccine advocate if she didn’t get vaccinated against COVID-19?“I knew I had to get it, but I honestly didn’t think I’d be able to,” she said. Yammine, 31, known as Science Sam on social media, is not frightened of needles in the way some people become mildly distressed about spiders or thunderstorms. Her fear is rooted in childhood trauma and it activates the same fight-or-flight response that another person might have if they encountered a bear or a home intruder.But when Yammine shared her story on Twitter, it came with a positive development. After months of planning, therapy and an appointment at an accessibility clinic, she had done it: she was vaccinated. “It was really affirming to know that I could achieve something that felt impossible for me,” she wrote.In the four months since, thousands of Canadians have messaged Yammine over social media to share that they, too, are debilitated by needle fear or medical anxiety. “These are people who know how important vaccination is and who want to be vaccinated, but cannot fathom how to get there,” Yammine said. “And they’ve just been feeling so ashamed and terrified and embarrassed.” While mild needle fears are common, research suggests that about one in 10 adults are fearful enough to delay or avoid vaccination, making the condition a significant and under-recognized public health concern. A 2018 review by U.S. researchers suggested 27 per cent of hospital workers avoided the flu vaccine due to needle fear. With more than 80 per cent of eligible Ontarians now fully immunized against COVID-19, experts believe people with needle phobia and other forms of medical anxiety likely make up a significant portion of the holdouts, and that more must be done to accommodate them.In recent weeks, as anti-mandate protesters have targeted hospitals, terrorized health-care workers and even entered a school while demonstrating in B.C., the public has shown a growing impatience with unvaccinated people, and a failure, at times, to recognize that angry anti-vax mobs represent only a small portion of the 14 per cent of people who have not yet received a single dose of the vaccine. In the population as a whole, only about two to five per cent are absolute refusers, said Dr. Noni MacDonald, a physician and professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Dalhousie University who studies vaccine hesitancy. “But for the rest, there’s usually a reason.” Often the reason is a barrier that needs to be overcome: a single mother who hasn’t found the time, a hesitant individual who hasn’t had their questions answered; people whose fears haven’t been addressed. Early on in the vaccine rollout, survey results suggested that a majority of Canadians planned to get the vaccine, while a very small number were firmly against it, and roughly a quarter were maybes, or the “movable middle,” who would need help or convincing. “The population we used to call the ‘movable middle’ has become smaller, because a lot of those people have already been moved — to immunization,” MacDonald said. “But within that group that is not vaccinated, we do have a significant number where pain is an issue and needle phobia is an issue,” MacDonald said.Since sharing her story, Yammine has become an unofficial vaccine therapist for people with fear and anxiety. People DM her daily on Instagram to ask for advice; they confess that they haven’t yet been vaccinated against COVID-19; they share stories of struggle or triumph; they even reach out in desperation from waiting rooms when they are in a panic and about to flee.Her own anxiety comes from trauma, not the prick of the needle itself, which is why she prefers the term needle anxiety over needle phobia.“I’m not afraid of pain,” she said. “I menstruate. I do Muay Thai kick-boxing. I’ve been punched in the face.” The fear started when she fainted during a routine vaccination at school when she was 12 — a frightening experience that was mishandled by medical professionals, she said. Her concerns about fainting were dismissed at future appointments, which led to more fainting episodes and further trauma. The fear comes from everything associated with the needle, including the medical setting, she said. Yammine started preparing for her COVID-19 vaccine far in advance of her appointment. She did seven hours of therapy. She found a numbing cream that desensitized her skin to distract from what was happening. She selected an accessibility clinic that could offer accommodations such as privacy and a place to lie down, so she didn't have t

How do you get vaccinated when you’re afraid of needles? This scientist found out first hand

In late May, Samantha Yammine, a Toronto neuroscientist who advocates for vaccines, shared what had become, for her, a source of shame and embarrassment. For much of her life, Yammine had lived with a severe anxiety around needles — a phobia that led her to avoid vaccination for years.

As a scientist, Yammine understood the toll of the pandemic and knew mass immunization was the way out. But she was crushed by fear and dread. How could she be a vaccine advocate if she didn’t get vaccinated against COVID-19?

“I knew I had to get it, but I honestly didn’t think I’d be able to,” she said.

Yammine, 31, known as Science Sam on social media, is not frightened of needles in the way some people become mildly distressed about spiders or thunderstorms. Her fear is rooted in childhood trauma and it activates the same fight-or-flight response that another person might have if they encountered a bear or a home intruder.

But when Yammine shared her story on Twitter, it came with a positive development. After months of planning, therapy and an appointment at an accessibility clinic, she had done it: she was vaccinated.

“It was really affirming to know that I could achieve something that felt impossible for me,” she wrote.

In the four months since, thousands of Canadians have messaged Yammine over social media to share that they, too, are debilitated by needle fear or medical anxiety. “These are people who know how important vaccination is and who want to be vaccinated, but cannot fathom how to get there,” Yammine said. “And they’ve just been feeling so ashamed and terrified and embarrassed.”

While mild needle fears are common, research suggests that about one in 10 adults are fearful enough to delay or avoid vaccination, making the condition a significant and under-recognized public health concern. A 2018 review by U.S. researchers suggested 27 per cent of hospital workers avoided the flu vaccine due to needle fear.

With more than 80 per cent of eligible Ontarians now fully immunized against COVID-19, experts believe people with needle phobia and other forms of medical anxiety likely make up a significant portion of the holdouts, and that more must be done to accommodate them.

In recent weeks, as anti-mandate protesters have targeted hospitals, terrorized health-care workers and even entered a school while demonstrating in B.C., the public has shown a growing impatience with unvaccinated people, and a failure, at times, to recognize that angry anti-vax mobs represent only a small portion of the 14 per cent of people who have not yet received a single dose of the vaccine.

In the population as a whole, only about two to five per cent are absolute refusers, said Dr. Noni MacDonald, a physician and professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Dalhousie University who studies vaccine hesitancy. “But for the rest, there’s usually a reason.” Often the reason is a barrier that needs to be overcome: a single mother who hasn’t found the time, a hesitant individual who hasn’t had their questions answered; people whose fears haven’t been addressed.

Early on in the vaccine rollout, survey results suggested that a majority of Canadians planned to get the vaccine, while a very small number were firmly against it, and roughly a quarter were maybes, or the “movable middle,” who would need help or convincing.

“The population we used to call the ‘movable middle’ has become smaller, because a lot of those people have already been moved — to immunization,” MacDonald said. “But within that group that is not vaccinated, we do have a significant number where pain is an issue and needle phobia is an issue,” MacDonald said.

Since sharing her story, Yammine has become an unofficial vaccine therapist for people with fear and anxiety. People DM her daily on Instagram to ask for advice; they confess that they haven’t yet been vaccinated against COVID-19; they share stories of struggle or triumph; they even reach out in desperation from waiting rooms when they are in a panic and about to flee.

Her own anxiety comes from trauma, not the prick of the needle itself, which is why she prefers the term needle anxiety over needle phobia.

“I’m not afraid of pain,” she said. “I menstruate. I do Muay Thai kick-boxing. I’ve been punched in the face.”

The fear started when she fainted during a routine vaccination at school when she was 12 — a frightening experience that was mishandled by medical professionals, she said. Her concerns about fainting were dismissed at future appointments, which led to more fainting episodes and further trauma. The fear comes from everything associated with the needle, including the medical setting, she said.

Yammine started preparing for her COVID-19 vaccine far in advance of her appointment. She did seven hours of therapy. She found a numbing cream that desensitized her skin to distract from what was happening. She selected an accessibility clinic that could offer accommodations such as privacy and a place to lie down, so she didn't have to worry about panicking or fainting in front of people. She worried that her reaction might deter others from getting the vaccine.

“I didn’t want to mess up anyone else’s vibe.”

She did a practice visit to the clinic the night before. During the vaccination, she closed her eyes and listened to Beyoncé through her headphones. Her partner stood nearby. It was the first time in a long time she got a shot without fainting.

Candace Alper, a marketing professional from Richmond Hill, was one of the people who saw Yammine’s story, and thought: That’s me.

Alper, 47, can’t pinpoint when her fear started, but she has been dealing with it her entire life. As a university student, she avoided a trip abroad because she couldn’t bring herself to get the required vaccines. During childbirth, she refused an epidural because the needle frightened her more than the pain of labour.

Alper had felt, at certain points in her life, that people thought she just being difficult, or her fear wasn’t real. She started chatting online with Yammine. “Here was this person saying, ‘This is a real thing.’ It was pivotal for me,” she said.

When Ontario began its COVID vaccine rollout, Alper knew she would eventually have to get “the jab” — a term, heard daily on the news, that stirred up dread. She has vulnerable family members. She works for an organization that provides support and services to children facing life-threatening and chronic illness.

“Knowing the people we support and what they’re going through, I couldn’t just say ‘No, I can’t get a needle.’ ”

Mass vaccination centres weren’t going to work for Alper. “I couldn’t think of anything more triggering for someone like me than a big facility with hundreds of people getting needles,” she said. Aside from a calmer environment, two things were essential to achieving her goal: her mother-in-law, who has been her support person for every needle she has received in recent years; and a sedative.

Alper attempted her first dose at a small clinic in the spring, but the anti-anxiety medication didn’t kick in and she left in a panic. She tried again about month later and got the first dose over with.

In August, after learning from Yammine about a specialized clinic for people with needle phobia at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Alper made an appointment for her second dose.

It was the most comfortable Asper had ever felt getting a needle. The clinic had a calm atmosphere, no medical equipment in view, extra time between appointments so she didn’t feel rushed, a private space to lie down and compassionate staff. CAMH uses the CARD system, an evidence-based approach to managing stressful situations that emphasizes comfort, offering time to ask questions, relaxation and distraction.

CAMH has held five needle phobia clinics as part of its last-mile vaccination effort, with a sixth scheduled for Sept. 27. About 250 people have been vaccinated at the clinics, while each day another eight to 10 people with needle fear visit regular clinics, where the hospital can also accommodate their needs.

Elsewhere in Toronto, city-run vaccination clinics offer accessibility accommodations, but requests can only be made when patients arrive at the clinic, not in advance.

Meghan McMurtry, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Guelph who studies needle phobia, argued in the New York Times that needle fear is an under-recognized vaccination challenge. In an interview, McMurtry said people with high levels of needle fear need evidence-based interventions, including therapy, long before they arrive at vaccine clinics, in order to get them there in the first place.

“If you have a significant fear, even talking about needles makes you want to run the other way,” she said. “The help needs to come before the vaccination.”

Yammine said people with needle fear or medical anxiety shouldn’t be afraid to ask for accommodations, especially now that clinics are less busy and focused on serving people who are harder to reach. “Whatever you need to be able to get your vaccine can be arranged,” she said. “Your health-care provider will do whatever they can to break down the barriers, so please just ask.

“And if you can’t find someone who will do that for you, let me know,” she added. “I’ll find you someone.

The Last Shot is an occasional series examining what it will take to reach the unvaccinated and move us past the pandemic.

Amy Dempsey is a Star reporter and feature writer based in Ottawa. Follow her on Twitter: @amydempsey

Source : Toronto Star More   

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Peter Frumusa was no double murderer. Why would police trust a drug dealer nicknamed ‘The Snake’?

When Peter Frumusa heard he was sentenced to life in prison for murdering a Niagara Falls couple as they slept, he collapsed face-first in the prisoner’s dock, wailing, “I didn’t do nothing, I didn’t do nothing, I didn’t do nothing.”It took five minutes for his lawyer Leo Adler to pull him to his feet.It took another nine years to prove that Frumusa was telling the truth and set him free.At the time of Frumusa’s trial in Niagara Falls in the fall of 1989, he was a 29-year-old cocaine addict with some shady associates.The murdered couple was retired autoworker Richard (Hop) Wilson and his wife Annie.The Wilsons had been married for less than five months in August 1988, when someone broke into their home on Niagara Parkway clubbed them to death in their beds. Theirs was a marriage of convenience. The Wilsons met in a Niagara Falls nursing home, where Richard, 70, was a patient and Annie, 48, one of his nurses.Marriage meant Richard, a widower with no children, could live out his years in his family home on the Niagara Parkway with round-the-clock medical care. He had been using a wheelchair after undergoing quadruple bypass heart surgery and suffering several strokes. Annie’s marriage to him mean she was guaranteed more than $50,000, plus a home for herself and her daughter, Brenda Smith, who was in a relationship with Frumusa. All Annie had to do was bathe, dress and take care of Richard until he died.Not long after their marriage, one of the groom’s friends dropped by for a visit and Richard sadly asked, “How could I have been so stupid?”On the morning of Aug. 23, 1988, Smith couldn’t reach her mother on the phone and so she dispatched Frumusa to check out the house.No one answered the door, and Frumusa called police. He was waiting in his car outside when officers arrived.Within hours, Frumusa was told he was under arrest. “Don’t say that,” he told arresting officers. “Don’t tell me that. You can’t tell me that.”No physical evidence was presented at Frumusa’s trial that linked him to the slayings; not one trace of blood was found on Frumusa or his clothing, experts told the court.That’s despite the fact that Annie Wilson’s blood was splattered on the eight-foot ceiling of her bedroom, on the walls and on a mirror three metres from her body, Const. Terry Ward of Niagara region police testified during the trial. Blood was also sprayed on the ceilings and walls of Richard’s bedroom, as well as on a television screen about two metres from his body. Nothing at the murder scene — including fibres, fabrics or fingerprints — linked Frumusa to the crime site, Ward testified. Adler, Frumusa’s lawyer, said this was inconsistent with the personality of his cocaine-addicted client. “Would a slob not leave forensic clues?” he asked the court. Testifying against Frumusa was a 29-year-old Niagara Region cocaine and heroin dealer nicknamed “The Snake.”The Snake was in a detention centre facing break-and-enter charges when Frumusa was charged.The Snake claimed that Frumusa confessed to him over the phone that he killed the couple, even though he and Frumusa didn’t know each other particularly well.The Snake’s story started to unravel after Frumusa was sent to prison.Four years after the murder, a cook in a Niagara Falls restaurant run by a mobster, told the Star the murder was carried out over Annie Wilson’s debts.The cook said he heard the murders being plotted, and that he attempted, without success, to alert police.Frumusa “got railroaded all along,” the cook told the Star, shortly before going into hiding from his old associates. The Niagara Falls mobster who ran the restaurant where the cook decided to make an example of Annie Wilson over her debts, the cook said. “She’s going to pay the ultimate price,” the cook recalled one mobster connected to the restaurant saying.Richard Wilson was killed because he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time — namely in his own home, the cook said. Robbery charges against the Snake were dropped after he testified against Frumusa.A former girlfriend of the Snake later told court in the murder trial of prostitute Monique Cloutier of Hamilton that she had doubts about the Snake’s story about Frumusa.“I asked him why he testified against Peter Frumusa,” she testified. “Why would Pete confide in him when they weren’t even friends? He said, ‘Pete didn’t.’”“He was lying to try and work a plea with the cops so he didn’t have to go to jail,” she explained. “I asked him why he would do something like that. He said, he ‘couldn’t go to jail because he’d be NG, no good, a stool pigeon.’” The Snake admitted in testimony in the same Hamilton trial in April 1990, that he had been medicated and on psychiatric care since early childhood because of his violent behaviour. Frumusa later told the Star that he was almost stabbed to death on his first day in general population at Millhaven penitentiary near Kingston.“I came out of my cell, made a left and — bang — I felt this sensation, a sort o

Peter Frumusa was no double murderer. Why would police trust a drug dealer nicknamed ‘The Snake’?

When Peter Frumusa heard he was sentenced to life in prison for murdering a Niagara Falls couple as they slept, he collapsed face-first in the prisoner’s dock, wailing, “I didn’t do nothing, I didn’t do nothing, I didn’t do nothing.”

It took five minutes for his lawyer Leo Adler to pull him to his feet.

It took another nine years to prove that Frumusa was telling the truth and set him free.

At the time of Frumusa’s trial in Niagara Falls in the fall of 1989, he was a 29-year-old cocaine addict with some shady associates.

The murdered couple was retired autoworker Richard (Hop) Wilson and his wife Annie.

The Wilsons had been married for less than five months in August 1988, when someone broke into their home on Niagara Parkway clubbed them to death in their beds.

Theirs was a marriage of convenience. The Wilsons met in a Niagara Falls nursing home, where Richard, 70, was a patient and Annie, 48, one of his nurses.

Marriage meant Richard, a widower with no children, could live out his years in his family home on the Niagara Parkway with round-the-clock medical care. He had been using a wheelchair after undergoing quadruple bypass heart surgery and suffering several strokes.

Annie’s marriage to him mean she was guaranteed more than $50,000, plus a home for herself and her daughter, Brenda Smith, who was in a relationship with Frumusa.

All Annie had to do was bathe, dress and take care of Richard until he died.

Not long after their marriage, one of the groom’s friends dropped by for a visit and Richard sadly asked, “How could I have been so stupid?”

On the morning of Aug. 23, 1988, Smith couldn’t reach her mother on the phone and so she dispatched Frumusa to check out the house.

No one answered the door, and Frumusa called police. He was waiting in his car outside when officers arrived.

Within hours, Frumusa was told he was under arrest. “Don’t say that,” he told arresting officers. “Don’t tell me that. You can’t tell me that.”

No physical evidence was presented at Frumusa’s trial that linked him to the slayings; not one trace of blood was found on Frumusa or his clothing, experts told the court.

That’s despite the fact that Annie Wilson’s blood was splattered on the eight-foot ceiling of her bedroom, on the walls and on a mirror three metres from her body, Const. Terry Ward of Niagara region police testified during the trial.

Blood was also sprayed on the ceilings and walls of Richard’s bedroom, as well as on a television screen about two metres from his body.

Nothing at the murder scene — including fibres, fabrics or fingerprints — linked Frumusa to the crime site, Ward testified.

Adler, Frumusa’s lawyer, said this was inconsistent with the personality of his cocaine-addicted client. “Would a slob not leave forensic clues?” he asked the court.

Testifying against Frumusa was a 29-year-old Niagara Region cocaine and heroin dealer nicknamed “The Snake.”

The Snake was in a detention centre facing break-and-enter charges when Frumusa was charged.

The Snake claimed that Frumusa confessed to him over the phone that he killed the couple, even though he and Frumusa didn’t know each other particularly well.

The Snake’s story started to unravel after Frumusa was sent to prison.

Four years after the murder, a cook in a Niagara Falls restaurant run by a mobster, told the Star the murder was carried out over Annie Wilson’s debts.

The cook said he heard the murders being plotted, and that he attempted, without success, to alert police.

Frumusa “got railroaded all along,” the cook told the Star, shortly before going into hiding from his old associates.

The Niagara Falls mobster who ran the restaurant where the cook decided to make an example of Annie Wilson over her debts, the cook said.

“She’s going to pay the ultimate price,” the cook recalled one mobster connected to the restaurant saying.

Richard Wilson was killed because he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time — namely in his own home, the cook said.

Robbery charges against the Snake were dropped after he testified against Frumusa.

A former girlfriend of the Snake later told court in the murder trial of prostitute Monique Cloutier of Hamilton that she had doubts about the Snake’s story about Frumusa.

“I asked him why he testified against Peter Frumusa,” she testified. “Why would Pete confide in him when they weren’t even friends? He said, ‘Pete didn’t.’”

“He was lying to try and work a plea with the cops so he didn’t have to go to jail,” she explained. “I asked him why he would do something like that. He said, he ‘couldn’t go to jail because he’d be NG, no good, a stool pigeon.’”

The Snake admitted in testimony in the same Hamilton trial in April 1990, that he had been medicated and on psychiatric care since early childhood because of his violent behaviour.

Frumusa later told the Star that he was almost stabbed to death on his first day in general population at Millhaven penitentiary near Kingston.

“I came out of my cell, made a left and — bang — I felt this sensation, a sort of numbness, not realizing at first there was blood,” Frumusa told reporter Tracey Tyler.

While behind bars, Frumusa enlisted Toronto defence lawyer James Lockyer, who worked on the case with co-counsel Michelle Levy.

A new trial was ordered on the basis of the fresh evidence from the Snake’s old girlfriend and the cook.

Lockyer argued in court that the Snake might have been involved in the double-murder of the Wilsons.

He “received extreme favours from police in exchange for his testimony,” Lockyer said.

Lockyer noted that the Snake also testified for the Crown at Hamilton murder trials in 1992 and 1993, each time having charges against himself dropped. That included charges for robbery, assault and uttering threats.

Prisoners like the Snake are known in jailhouse circles as “priests” — they seem to constantly be hearing confessions.

Lockyer called the Snake a prime suspect in one of those murders before he testified for the Crown.

“The odds against the same person having crucial information from the mouth of the killer in three murder trials must be extremely high,” Lockyer said.

Lockyer described the Snake as a violent drug addict who had amassed 37 convictions by 1993 and “had killed at age 15 during the course of a robbery.”

The Cook said the Snake also bragged about cutting off a man’s leg with a chain saw.

The Snake “was almost in a position where it seemed he had a licence to commit crimes,” Lockyer told the court. “He has, in essence, played with the justice system like a child with a toy.”

Ultimately, the lawyer said, the Snake “was put into the witness protection program at the expense of the Ontario taxpayer.”

In June 1998, at the age of 39, Frumusa finally got a judge’s apology and his freedom. “To you, Mr. Frumusa, on behalf of the court and our justice system, I apologize for what you have gone through,” Justice Paul Forestell told him in a Welland courtroom.

“You’re free now. Go on and enjoy life. Accept our apologies,” the judge said.

Forestell told Frumusa that he was lucky to have the help of lawyers Lockyer and Levy. The judge also praised Crown attorney Michael Quinn’s “courage” in withdrawing the charges and accepting blame.

Quinn then apologized himself.

He also told the court that Frumusa wouldn’t have been prosecuted for the double murders if the recommendations made by retired Quebec judge Fred Kaufman at the inquiry into the wrongful conviction of Guy Paul Morin for the 1984 murder of Christine Jessop had been in place at the time.

After the Kaufman inquiry, there were also new guidelines for Crown attorneys regarding the use of jailhouse informants.

Those guidelines call for a registry of when jailhouse informants are used, and supervisory approval before an informant is used as a witness by a crown attorney.

Kaufman also warned that jailhouse informants, like the Snake, must be handled with care.

“The systemic evidence emanating from Canada, Great Britain, Australia and the United States demonstrated that the dangers associated with jailhouse informants were not unique to the Morin case,” Kaufman warned. “Indeed, a number of miscarriages of justice throughout the world are likely explained, at least in part, by the false, self-serving evidence given by such informants.”

So who beat the Wilsons to death, if it wasn’t Frumusa?

The cook said there were four men involved, including the Snake, and they stripped off their bloody clothes in the Niagara Falls restaurant when the job was done.

One of them compared the violence to getting rid of unwanted puppies, the cook said.

“It’s finished,” another of them said.

The whereabouts of the cook and the Snake are unknown.

The murders remain unsolved.

Peter Edwards is a Toronto-based reporter primarily covering crime for the Star. Reach him via email: pedwards@thestar.ca

Source : Toronto Star More   

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