I felt guilty for having the coronavirus vaccine, now I understand why I need it

Alexandra Thompson
·7-min read
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Considering myself a healthy 30-year-old, I never expected to be classed as 'in an at-risk group'. (Supplied: Alexandra Thompson)

Working as a health reporter during the pandemic, I have written close to 400 articles on the coronavirus.

Having lost count of the number of research papers and conferences I have delved into on the long-anticipated vaccines, I eagerly awaited my invitation for a jab, expecting to get the call in the summer at the earliest.

As a 30-year-old who considers herself in excellent health, I never expected to be classed as "in an at-risk group".

In 2017, however, I suddenly developed asthma. Weeks of struggling to breathe landed me in hospital with dangerously low oxygen levels in my blood.

Read more: Coronavirus vaccines are safe

While I have barely experienced symptoms since, that emergency admission classes me as a severe asthma patient.

After initially feeling guilty for having the vaccine ahead of older loved ones, it dawned on me my immunisation may mean one less patient in a highly-stretched A&E unit, where exhausted staff work overtime to save lives.

It may feel like a drop in the ocean, but every jab counts, with my vaccine edging the world that little bit closer to the much-lauded herd immunity.

Twenty-four hours on I feel well, with just a slight ache in my arm and a huge burst of optimism for the future.

The text to book a coronavirus vaccine arrived on 12 February.

Considering myself in almost perfect health, I initially dismissed it as a scam, having heard horror stories of crooks swindling people in return for a phantom jab.

Reassured by the fact my bank details were not requested and the legitimate software company AccuRx was overseeing the booking, I filled out the form.

A few minutes later, I received a text confirming a vaccine appointment in five days' time.

That is when the guilt set in. My 60-something mother has not yet had the vaccine. I know people with diabetes who are scheduled to get the jab after me.

Read more: Coronavirus vaccines have not been rushed

If it had not been for a night in hospital nearly four years ago, I imagine I would be near the bottom of the coronavirus vaccine list.

People whose asthma is considered under control are not being prioritised for a jab.

Only those who were formally told to shield, regularly take steroid tablets or have ever had an emergency hospital admission are getting immunised ahead of their peers.

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My asthma has been under control since a night in hospital nearly four years ago, allowing me to live a full life. (Supplied: Alexandra Thompson)

I became unbearably breathless around July 2017. Usually jogging three times a week (albeit at a snail's pace), a short walk along a flat pavement had me gasping for breath.

I woke every night for three weeks coughing uncontrollably, with my chest rattling.

At the time I dismissed it as a chest infection that would pass. I now know this was a serious case of uncontrolled asthma.

After waking one night barely able to get air into my lungs, I took myself to hospital the next day. Looking back I kick myself for not calling 999 immediately.

Doctors at Guy's and St Thomas' trust in London measured the oxygen in my blood, before immediately putting me on a nebuliser mask to open up my airways.

With my lung capacity worryingly low, I was kept in overnight.

Read more: Mix and match coronavirus vaccine doses investigated

The following day doctors discharged me with around a week's worth of high-dose steroids to combat the inflammation in my airways, followed by a routine steroid inhaler.

My symptoms seemed to vanish with the medication, but it also left me with a bout of acne I could not ignore.

Still under the care of the Guy's and St Thomas' team, I found an inhaler that caused me no side effects, prompting the medics to transfer me to my GP.

Nearly four years later, I still take a puff of steroids every morning to keep my symptoms at bay, but cannot remember the last time I was wheezy or used my reliever inhaler.

My asthma is considered under control, with doctors even talking about gradually dialling down my dose with the view to come off the steroid inhaler altogether – a plan scuppered by the pandemic.

Having written close to 400 articles on the coronavirus, the vaccination was an emotional experience. (Supplied: Alexandra Thompson)
Having written close to 400 articles on the coronavirus, the vaccination was an emotional experience. (Supplied: Alexandra Thompson)

Asthma is a common condition, affecting one in 12 adults in the UK.

Common does not mean harmless, however, with three people dying from an asthma attack every day.

While I initially felt I should not have a vaccine at this stage of the roll out, it dawned on me how serious my complications could be if I caught the coronavirus.

On 17 February I was given the Pfizer-BioNTech jab – shown to be 95% effective against severe disease when given as a two-dose regimen – at St Barnabas Church in Wandsworth.

That shot in my arm could free up an A&E bed, not to mention saving the NHS the thousands it spends treating each intensive care patient.

Even if I were to have mild coronavirus symptoms, or none at all, the vaccine could ward off an infection that may otherwise leave me with debilitating long COVID.

Research only definitively demonstrates the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine protects against severe disease. However, experts are unanimously optimistic the jab will also prevent the coronavirus' transmission to some extent.

Could my jab stop me passing the infection to someone who would otherwise become seriously ill?

While I am adhering to lockdown, we all have the anxiety of crossing a stranger on our daily walk or a fellow shopper standing a little too close at the self-service checkout.

Read more: Global coronavirus vaccine confidence rising but still too low

Experts generally think around 80% of people need to be immunised in order to create herd immunity against the coronavirus.

Not everyone can get vaccinated, like pregnant women or those with certain medical conditions that suppress their immune system.

My shot in the arm goes some way to keeping those vulnerable individuals safe. It is one big team effort.

While some endure mild side effects from the jab, I have just a slight ache at the site of the injection, which I know will pass in a day or two.

The whole process was extremely efficient and organised. The friendly staff even humoured me when I became emotional at the prospect of a post-lockdown life.

I now eagerly await my invitation for a second vaccine, safe in the knowledge my immune system is fired up and life will get better.

Dr Laura Quinton, operational lead at the St Barnabas vaccination site, told Yahoo UK: "The NHS is prioritising the most vulnerable people for the COVID-19 vaccination.

"This includes young people at higher risk of the more severe effects of the virus, such as those with severe asthma.

"We know some younger people may feel guilty in getting vaccinated before older family members, especially if their underlying health condition is not obvious to others, but it is so important people come forward when they are asked, so they can protect themselves and others from the virus."

Watch: What is long COVID?