Nervous patients in a Dutch city are getting a helping hand from virtual reality so that they can get vaccinated.
As the country battles the Omicron variant, people wary of the needle can put on a pair of VR glasses and be transported from Rotterdam to the ocean, or on a safari.
The Netherlands is in a new lockdown that will keep people at home over the New Year holiday. All non-essential shops and restaurants are closed and the school holidays are being extended.
Floris van der Breggen, founder of SyncVR Medical, told The National how the VR system can alleviate patient stress.
“Patients report up to 50 per cent less pain and stress when being vaccinated while using VR for distraction and relaxation,” he said.
“As such, many patients that would otherwise not be able to have vaccination, can still have theirs,” he said.
The team in Rotterdam hopes the Covid trial can help research into trypanophobia, the fear of medical procedures involving injections or hypodermic needles.
The VR glasses, developed by SyncVR, are meant to put people’s minds at ease while the vaccine is being injected.
They have been used previously to treat pain anxiety, to reduce stress, for rehabilitation and for training staff.
“They experience being in a complete different, relaxing environment – for example, a tropical beach. The environment is projected 360 degrees around them, so the human brain really thinks it's there … this takes their attention away from the stress-inducing vaccination,” Mr van der Breggen said
“It could be a tropical beach, but the most popular is under water, among dolphins. We have now entered a collaboration with an African organisation to enable patients to visit wildlife while being vaccinated.”
The initiative was launched with help from Erasmus University Medical Centre and the only VR centre in the trial is at a pop-up vaccine site in the grounds.
If the trial is successful it may be introduced at other vaccination centres across the country.
“We want to use these glasses to see whether we can remove the root of needle fear in people. In this case it really is a trial, to see the effect on people,” said Mario Papilaja, regional manager for Rotterdam’s Municipal Health Service.
Across Europe, leaders are implementing new Covid restrictions to tackle the easily spread Omicron variant.
Germany expects it to become the dominant variant over the next two weeks, the UK has implemented wider work-from-home rules and France is looking at vaccine passes, so that only the vaccinated can go to entertainment and hospitality venues.