Words by Lucy Evans
Throughout the past year, one thing almost everyone has wanted, and been waiting for, is a way out of this pandemic. The vaccines were developed, tested, and rolled out within 10 months, and as of the time of writing, 24 million adults in the UK have received their vaccine. On Mother’s Day, I became one of those 24 million.
Being a biomedical science student, I’ve followed vaccine development closely. During Sixth Form I was lucky enough to go to events hosted by the Jenner Institute- the same group that developed the AstraZeneca vaccine, which I received. The UK was the first country to approve vaccinations, starting the rollout on the 8th December 2020, with Margaret Keenan receiving the first vaccine, at a Coventry Hospital.
Many people may feel as though the vaccine was rushed. It is true- this is a medical marvel of nothing to injections in less than a year. But it was possible due to the intense collaboration and need to end this pandemic. Most vaccines have to go through intense bureaucratic processes. Waiting for funding, finding trial participants, booking lab space. Due to the need for this vaccine, all hands have been on deck to produce them. Labs globally are focusing on it, money is being pumped in, and members of the public are ready and willing to volunteer.
Being from near Oxford, I tried to volunteer for the AstraZeneca trial, however my services were not required. So I waited my turn and sat as my elderly grandparents received their vaccines in December, and my mother only 3 days before me.
Accessing the vaccine wasn’t the easiest thing. Calling up my new GP to make sure they knew about my underlying conditions so I could access it when needed. Receiving a text to book the vaccine… in Brighton, 120 miles away from where I currently am. Checking my NHS number on the booking site, for it to deny me day after day. That is, until the Saturday before Mother’s Day. I immediately booked for the following day, at the Kassam Stadium in Oxford, a mere 5 mile drive from where the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was developed.
The whole experience felt relatively streamlined. We were ushered to a parking spot, and I was directed to a queue of people, while my mother stayed in the car. I felt distinctly young- I have underlying health conditions so was able to access the vaccine early, at the same time as those in their 50s and 60s (like my mother). Someone asked me if I had had a flu jab that week, or had any covid symptoms, and asked me for proof that I was eligible- something that left a sour taste in my mouth, as surely if I were able to book, I was eligible.
I was ushered inside and directed to a bottle of hand sanitiser, then booked in. Up a staircase I went, and was again registered, then told to sit in chair number 15. I waited for a while, before being told I could queue up inside the vaccination room. A large room filled with numbered cubicles on the left, and first aid on the right. After more waiting (about 20 minutes in total), I was directed to a cubicle.
Here they asked you basic questions- name, NHS number, date of birth, any allergies etc. I joked with the vaccinator about my degree, and how I enjoy immunology. They then got my arm prepped and gave me the vaccine.
For reference, I have a history of poor reactions to vaccines, so for me this did not end well. I ended up passing out for about 30 seconds, before coming to and chucking my guts up into an empty sharps bin. Nothing super unusual for young me, but I hadn’t had this bad of a reaction to a vaccine in many years. The lovely nurses and doctor made sure I was okay (it was simply my body going into shock as it had done many times at needles, nothing to do with the vaccine itself), gave me some chewing gum, and kept an eye on me for a while. I then went back, found my mother, and went home.
The side effects weren’t amazing, but were nothing compared to what I’ve heard about experiencing covid itself. I had hot and cold chills, which made me sleep quite badly, then woke up the next day with a headache like I’d drunk a whole bottle of vodka the night before. Over the day my fever started to spike, so I took some painkillers and a very long shower- the only place I felt somewhat normal. I can definitely say that if you are able to, get your vaccine the day before a day which you don’t have much on. Side effects can definitely vary, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. I was still able to do a quick food shop, and 3 hours of uni work, but it was a push and I definitely wanted to stay in bed. It’s been well documented that younger people experience more side effects, as a result of our immune systems being more active, and in the sample size of two (that is myself and my mother), this was definitely true. The next day I was totally fine barring the slight arm tenderness that often goes along with vaccines. As my friend said- the side effects are definitely worth it as a tradeoff for not getting Covid.
I told a few friends I’d received the vaccine and was met with a lot of jealousy- I’m aware I’ve been very lucky, all things considered. My second dose is in early June, meaning that by the provisional date of the 21st June for reopening, I’ll be fully vaccinated.
There’s a lot of fear and trepidation about the vaccine, especially AstraZeneca. Misinformation has been spread on social media, giving conspiracy theorists a field day. However the day I received my jab, news broke of blood clots as a side effect of it. EU countries stopped giving the jab, from Norway, to the Netherlands, and many in between. I can’t say I wasn’t worried,given my young age, and the fact I take a pill every day that has a non insignificant risk of clotting anyway (hello contraceptive pill). The UK has not stopped the usage of the vaccine- in the UK, more than 11 million people have already received at least one dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and there has been no sign of excess deaths or blood clots occurring. At the time of writing, 13 countries have stopped the use of it, while the WHO are asking countries to continue using it, after dismissing the increased risk.
One thing I can say I’ve taken from this process is some faith. Faith in the NHS, and that they are able to do all this incredible work. Faith in the fact that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Faith in science- in the field I’m working so hard to get into. It’s very easy to get bogged down right now, but in getting my vaccine, I’ve regained a sense of promise in the future.