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  • Writer's pictureLayla Mofrad

Uncertainty and Vaccination in the UK

Written by Mark Freeston with contributions from friends and associates of Unicorn (names changed to protect anonymity)

The arrival and rapid roll out of vaccines in the UK comes with changing perceptions of risk, threat and uncertainty. People are balancing their perception of personal vulnerability and how much the vaccine will reduce their COVID risk, against the potential risks of new vaccines and technology.

The fast development and roll out contribute to both real uncertainty (e.g., unknown potential long-term effects of the vaccine), and perceived uncertainty which depends on a whole range of factors. This is experienced in the context of each person’s attitudes to vaccines in general; whether they consider they are being pressured, whether they personally feel they will benefit, trust in experts, suspicion of authorities, etc.

From my personal perspective, it took me over 3 months this year to get my flu vaccine despite trying all possible routes (employer, GP practice, private). This has left me feeling somewhat ambivalent toward people who have previously not wanted it but opted to have it this year. I have reluctantly accepted that this is some combination of new enlightened self-interest or responding to the “greater good” messages.

I am watching “the queue” for the Covid vaccination with an online calculator; not just for me personally, but to see how assumptions and predictions of who and when change week to week. Since the vaccines arrived, at any point if offered, I would have taken it. I do have concerns about the “unknowns” of the vaccine and fully understand why others may be reluctant, however the “knowns” of how the virus may affect me (as I understand it under worst case scenario) make my personal decision a no brainer.

I was offered the vaccine recently and attended my appointment not knowing which one it would be. It turned out to be the AstraZeneca/Oxford one just around the time all the side-effect stories emerged. Like others, I did not feel great for a few days. Eighteen days after the vaccine I experienced some delayed side effects which were unpleasant but not dangerous. The timing of these symptoms contributed to uncertainty, but they were still reassuringly within the 4 week yellow card time frame. According to accessible yellow-card info, these side-effects are quite frequent but it does not say when they occur. My second dose is booked. Since arranging it, and having my first dose, uncertainty around the vaccine has grown. Unless things change radically, I expect I will go ahead.

Amy: I had my first vaccine in December which felt like an exciting prospect in terms of hopefully having some level of protection to COVID going forward. It felt like a relief and after receiving it I noticed I felt less anxious at work (I had not previously noticed how much I worried about Covid transmission with my patients). I noticed I also felt ‘safer’ in meetings with other staff members. I felt relief that my family may also now be safer.

On my way to have the vaccine I felt apprehensive but thought that I had no choice to protect my own and others health, and to try and find ‘a way out’ of the pandemic. The risk seemed worth taking. At the point of receiving the injection I felt a wave of anxiety, and when waiting afterwards I worried that I may have a reaction to it. In the subsequent 24 hours I felt slightly preoccupied and anxious regarding the side effects I experienced. They also seemed to mimic the virus which felt anxiety provoking.

Susie: In the first wave of the pandemic I sadly lost a relative to Covid-19. I have seen several friends experience Long Covid, and more recently have lost colleagues in my age group to Covid, so I am fully aware of the risks of catching the virus. I am deemed to be low risk of experiencing severe Covid, however my own experience has raised doubts as to whether I would survive. Because of these beliefs, I was very keen to receive the vaccine.

I received my first dose in January. Whilst queuing for my vaccine, one of the staff came out and informed us that they were running short of doses. My anxiety increased; was I there early enough? Would I be turned away? Thankfully, I made the cut off and received my vaccine that day. I had some mild anxieties during the 15 minutes afterwards; I waited to see whether I would develop an anaphylactic reaction. Despite having some mild side effects, I am pleased to have received my vaccine . . . I just hope it works on the new variants!

Rarely has a whole population faced such an issue. Previous vaccines, when introduced may well have presented the population with similar dilemmas. However, some of the differences now may be the availability of information, the role of the media (including alternative medias), perceptions of “choice” with different vaccines becoming available, and the pace of the evolving variants of different virulence. The people of the UK are perhaps fortunate for so many people to be faced with these dilemmas so quickly, but similar dilemmas will face others in the coming months and years.

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