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Mental Health Challenges Related to the COVID-19 Vaccine

Apr 08, 2021 | 4 min read

Key Takeaways

  • Anxiety disorder related to COVID-19 is rising, translating for many into anxiety about the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • A quarter (27%) of the public remains vaccine hesitant, particularly among people of color.
  • Engagement is key to helping employees manage their mental health challenges related to the vaccine.


While it’s been one year since COVID-19 first appeared in the United States, anxiety among Americans remains high.

Much of this anxiety comes from continued uncertainty about the virus, its impact to the economy and daily living, COVID-19 vaccines, and many virus variants. In fact, new variants of COVID-19 are creating concern among 83% of Americans with only 26% expecting that life will return to normal within the next six months1.

Constant exposure to news updates and the politicization of the pandemic have fueled fear and, in many cases, created a detachment to the severity of virus due to emotional fatigue.

Illness anxiety disorder related to COVID-19 is rising

The National Institutes of Health has termed health/illness anxiety related to COVID-19 as “coronaphobia,” defined as an excessive triggered response of fear of contracting the virus causing severe stress about personal and occupational loss causing marked impairment in daily functioning2.

For many, this translates into anxiety about the COVID-19 vaccine,3 its efficacy, the long wait to receive it, and possible side effects.A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that a quarter (27%) of the public remains vaccine hesitant, stating that they’re unlikely to get the vaccine even if it’s available and safe due to:

  • Concern about side effects (59%)
  • Lack of trust in the government to ensure safety and efficacy (55%)
  • Fear about the overall safety of the vaccine (53%)
  • Worry about the role of politics during the development process (51%)4



In addition, there’s some disparity among people of color. About 48% of Black adults indicate that they are not confident that the vaccine was developed taking into consideration the needs of Black people and 36% of Hispanic adults have similar concerns4.



The reality is even with these challenges, public health officials are clear that returning to “normal” depends on enough of the population receiving the vaccine to achieve herd immunity.

Engagement is key to helping employees manage their mental health challenges related to the vaccine

Employers who encounter vaccine anxiety and contentious discussions at work may communicate the availability of an existing Employee Assistance Program to employees. Alternatively, employees may connect with a mental health professional and other resources on their own.

Mental health professionals and community members can help those reluctant to get vaccinated by openly communicating the following:

  1. An understanding different communities’ points of view. For example, people of color have an inherent distrust in the medical community given that 20% indicate they have experienced racism while seeking medical care5. The American Psychological Association suggests the communication should be a two-way street and tailored to the unique concerns of each community.
  2. A sharing of personal positive narratives of the experience with the vaccination from respected medical professionals. Research suggests a messaging focus on altruism and hope rather than that of obligation or shame toward those who are hesitant5.
  3. An acknowledgement of the strong emotional connection that folks may have to anti-vaccination. Research shows that while this is challenging, it’s possible to tailor messaging that may move these folks toward vaccination. Many anti-vax people believe that vaccinations are about limiting freedom. Psychologists suggest helping folks see that this vaccination is their right and they should not let that right be taken away5.

With professional mental health, it’s possible to help employees break down their barriers, and ease their fears about the COVID-19 vaccine.




Ph.D., CRC, LPC Vice President, Health and Productivity Practice, Prudential

Dr. Kristin Tugman has more than 20 years’ experience as a health and productivity consultant. Her work is founded on a specific cognitive behavioral model to help individuals overcome psychological barriers and return to productivity. In addition, she’s the author of several publications on the psychological aspects of disability. A certified rehabilitation counselor and licensed professional counselor, Dr. Tugman earned a master’s in rehabilitation counseling from Georgia State University and a Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology from Capella University. Dr. Tugman leads a team focused on identifying disability trends that impact Prudential customers and making actionable recommendations to help maximize productivity and minimize absence.


MS, LCMHC, CCM Vice President, Disability Claims, Prudential

Gail Ballin is a clinical leader with proven success in all areas of operations. She is solution-focused with solid ability to assess business needs and identify efficiencies that result in better workflows, cost savings, and an improved client and employee experience. She has a master’s degree in counseling from Nova Southeastern University and is a licensed professional counselor with over 20 years of experience as a clinician. She spent close to 20 years in the disability and absence industry before joining Prudential in 2019. Gail leads a team of professional resources with clinical, medical, behavioral health, and vocational rehabilitation expertise. Her teams focus on assessing wellness, functional capacity, and return to work.


Prudential recognizes that there are personal and medical reasons for which an individual would choose not to get vaccinated for COVID-19. This article is intended to provide information and education, and help those who are undecided make the best informed decision for their personal situation.


The Prudential Insurance Company of America (Prudential)


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Jun 09, 2021

Jun 09, 2021

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