PORTSMOUTH — When the COVID-19 vaccine first became available, Tanner Preston wasn’t sure if he wanted it.
First of all, he’s young. Much younger than the people who were being hospitalized or dying in the early stages of the pandemic. Other people needed it more, he reasoned, so he could afford to wait. “I kept thinking, I don’t need this right now,” he said.
There was another factor, too. He has a severe fear of needles. He always has.
“I’ve gotten out of getting the flu shot for the last six or so years because I’m terrified of needles,” he said.
As the virus continued to spread, however, his thought process changed. He saw other people becoming sick with COVID-19, including some who were immunocompromised. He’s a college student at Capital University and it seemed like more and more students living in his building were testing positive.
“A lot of the guys on my floor started getting it and we all share a shower and a bathroom,” he explained. “That just started to weigh on my mind.”
He also realized he had a family friend who couldn’t get the vaccine because they were allergic to some of the ingredients. He knew they would always be at risk of infection unless the people around them were vaccinated. All this came together and eventually crystallized in a single, powerful thought: During a pandemic, getting vaccinated is the best way to help the people around you.
“It was a hard decision to make because it meant facing a fear, but I saw people getting sick and I knew that if there was a solution, I wanted to be a part of it,” Preston said.
Unfortunately, knowing he was doing the right thing didn’t make it less frightening.
“The 24 hours prior to getting it, it was constantly on my mind. Once I got to the hospital to get it, I was practically shaking because I knew what was coming,” he said. It was at that point he relied on a technique he has used to ease his fear with previous injections. It’s one he recommends other people with a fear of needles copy for themselves.
“I always say to people who are afraid of needles, whoever is giving it to you, don’t let them give it to you on their terms. Do it on your terms,” he said. “I tell them, ‘Sanitize my arm and be ready. I’m going to stand here and breathe and when I’m ready, I’ll tell you. When I say to, give it to me as fast as possible.’”
When it came time to receive the shot, Preston was relieved to find he couldn’t feel it at all.
“It was quick. I didn’t feel anything. Honestly, knowing it wasn’t that bad made getting my second dose that much easier,” he said. Even though it was a stressful experience to get there, he feels good knowing that he did his part.
He isn’t stopping with his own vaccine, though. Preston is part of an interfaith youth group at college and will be serving as a COVID-19 Vaccine Ambassador. In that capacity, he will talk with those who are hesitant to discuss their concerns, share his experience as well as share the facts – and dispel the myths – about the vaccine. He thinks it’s important to encourage people to view this as an opportunity to help one another rather than only thinking about it in terms of what it means for you, personally.
Preston has been surprised that more young people haven’t already been vaccinated, considering that vaccines are a regular part of growing up and many have been required by schools for their entire lives. “We all had to get shots for kindergarten, high school and even before the start of college,” Preston said. “To me, this isn’t any different.”
He suspects part of the reason some haven’t gotten it yet is because they believe the virus isn’t relevant to them. With more young people becoming sick and even hospitalized for COVID, however, he thinks it’s important to change that mindset.
“We all think we’re invincible, but we aren’t bulletproof,” he said. “We think, oh, it’s not going to get us, but the reality is, it can and it has.”
It’s a message he’s doing his best to share within his sphere of influence. For now, though, he can take comfort in the knowledge he’s done his part – and confronted a major fear along the way.