Last month the UK became the first country in the West to begin vaccinating its general population, and now more than four million people have been given the first of two doses of the coronavirus vaccine, with over half of people aged over 80 receiving their first jab.
Under the UK rollout plan, the most vulnerable, and those working with the most vulnerable, are at the front of the queue. According to the government, top priority groups – those aged 70 and above, as well as frontline workers, care home residents and staff – should be vaccinated before the end of February (though, in the initial weeks, not enough vaccines were being offered to meet this target). Those aged between 50 and 65, as well as those with underlying health conditions, will start to receive the vaccine in the spring. Finally, in autumn, the rest of the population, around 21 million, will receive the vaccine, with UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock claiming that all adults will have been offered at least one dose of the vaccine by this time.
Despite being in the lowest priority group for the vaccine overall, however, many young people have been vaccinated already, ahead of people aged over 80. They might be frontline workers or part of the early vaccine trials, or they may have also received the vaccine in slightly unconventional ways – using up surplus doses or through working for a GP.
So what does it feel like to be part of this small group of vaccinated young people?
I feel a bit guilty to have “skipped the queue”
I got the vaccine on Saturday because I have been volunteering at my local vaccine centre, and there were a few doses left at the end of the day, some of which went to frontline volunteers at the centre.
It's felt fairly surreal to have received it so early, and entirely unexpected. After I signed up to be a volunteer, they told me it was policy for volunteers to be vaccinated at some point during the programme, but I was very surprised and grateful for it to be so early. I feel a bit guilty to have “skipped the queue”, but also really pleased that in a few weeks I can work my shifts with more confidence.
I've told some friends and family, but haven't talked about it on social media – I suppose there's a bit of guilt about getting it so early and advertising that, but over the next few days, I will probably share it more widely as I know that discussing positive vaccine experiences will be really important to encourage take-up. Anon, 26, London.
“I'm still quite scared of passing it on”
The hospital that I work in was one of the trial sites for the Oxford vaccine. In May last year, they asked for volunteers and I volunteered and went through the screening process, and they accepted me.
Things don’t feel that different, because I'm still working in critical care. Obviously, the vaccine probably does work, and it probably will stop me getting symptoms [the Oxford vaccine has been shown to be 90 percent effective after two doses], but I'm still quite scared of passing it on to other people because they just don't know whether that's still possible or not. I don't think they will know for a while. [UK government advice says people who received the vaccine should still follow guidelines around social distancing and mask-wearing]
When I first signed up for this trial, I was quite vocal on Instagram about getting it because a lot of people my age seem to be quite… unconcerned, but kind of distrusting of the whole process, and the fact it's come about so quickly. So I tried to kind of talk a lot about it and make people realise it's not that big of a deal. I got it, and then six months later, I'm fine.
A lot of people were quite shocked at first and said they would never sign up – this is mainly people at work, they thought it was a bit crazy. But then six months down the line, many have signed up to get the vaccine. Some people are still not wanting to get it at all. So I'm quite surprised by that, especially considering we work in critical care and we see the worst effects of it. Alyssia Hannah, 24, London.
“As soon as I get my second dose I will probably go wild”
I am a social work assistant in Kent so I work directly with children and families in their homes. I was vaccinated at the local hospital yesterday morning.
At the age of 26, it is weird to be vaccinated because you always hear about older people or people with illnesses needing it more. I also do not know anyone other than work colleagues who have had it, so I didn't know what to expect.
I feel absolutely ecstatic and excited to get the vaccine – almost privileged to be one of the first. I do feel slightly guilty that I may have taken space for someone more vulnerable and also my friends and family will be waiting for months.
I do feel a lot safer having had the vaccine. I will continue with the mask-wearing and hand sanitiser but as soon as I get my second dose I will probably go wild. I already have made plans to see my friends and family and cannot wait. I think that was also a huge motivator to get the vaccine. I would still be too worried at the moment to see anyone vulnerable who has not had the vaccine as I think I could still carry it? Guidance is very unclear actually. [UK government guidance states: The vaccine cannot give you COVID-19 infection, and a full course will reduce your chance of becoming seriously ill. We do not yet know whether it will stop you from catching and passing on the virus, but we do expect it to reduce this risk.]
I told everyone I could that I’d had the vaccine! Everyone was excited, wanted to know of any side effects and what vaccine I had. Overall, a very positive experience. Anon, 26, Kent.
“I can think of people that are somewhat more deserving than lawyers to get vaccinated”
I do what is called a legal consultancy service for a GP surgery. During the pandemic, they asked me in quite a bit to help them understand certain aspects of liability that they might or might not have.
I was going down to that surgery quite a lot. When they got the opportunity to get the vaccine, because I am in their payroll, they asked, “Would you like to get vaccinated as well?” And initially, I felt a little bit conflicted about that one because you know, I can think of people that are somewhat more deserving than lawyers to get vaccinated. But then, because the bulk of my practice is crime, we are frequently ordered into the cells at the moment. I thought, actually, I'll take them up on the offer.
I ended up getting vaccinated on the 3rd of January. It was an OK vaccine actually, at the time, it didn't cause any, any sort of stress. But the day after, I don't think I've ever experienced so much pain from a vaccine in my life. My left arm – I couldn't raise it over my ear [According to the NHS, it is possible to experience mild side effects from the vaccine, such as tenderness in the arm].
My girlfriend has lived alone, so we are bubbling together. Because I have been working throughout the pandemic, I've often felt quite guilty about the level of risks that I expose her to on a daily basis. And that hasn't really changed because no one's really able to answer whether or not I can or can't transmit it. [UK government guidance states: The vaccine cannot give you COVID-19 infection, and a full course will reduce your chance of becoming seriously ill. We do not yet know whether it will stop you from catching and passing on the virus, but we do expect it to reduce this risk.]
I have been a little bit worried about telling some people. If only because, I mean, in some respects, I picked up the vaccine through a technicality, more so than to actually deserving it. The people that know have been very supportive of it. Anon, 33, London.
“I received a couple of messages saying I’ll have ‘grown five heads’ in a couple of months”
I am a social worker for the local authority and was invited to get one through the local hospital. I was sent a link by my manager to book it. I got my first dose of Pfizer on the 11th of January and will be receiving my second dose on the 23rd of March.
It felt good getting the vaccine as with my job, it will allow me to work face to face again. I work with adults with learning disabilities and face to face interaction is crucial in this area of work. Many of my clients will also be
getting vaccinated soon or will have already received it. However, I did feel guilty that I had received it and my grandma and grandad have not received it yet. They are in their 60s.
I did tell most people I know I’ve had it. One of my friends told me that they’re “glad one of us had it first” so they can “see what happens”. It does make me feel slightly anxious as many of my friends are very wary of the vaccine. I received a couple of messages saying I’ll have “grown five heads” in a couple of months. Overall though I’m just happy to have had it. Frankie Cousineau-Keating, 21, Cheshire.
“I come into contact with positive cases a few times a day”
I got the vaccine as I work on the ‘frontline’ as a porter in the hospital. I got the first dose on the 16th of January.
I’ve got mixed feelings really. I was sceptical after UK government decided to change the period between doses with no research to back up that decision, but also I felt like it would be stupid to turn down the chance to get the vaccine, as I know it’s a privilege. I’m not an anti-vax crank or anything, but it doesn’t take much research to discover that this country seems to be running their vaccination program in a way that is more concerned with positive headlines than public health. [According to the the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), while vaccines were most effective after two doses, both the Pfizer vaccine and Oxford vaccine “offer considerable protection after a single dose, at least in the short term.”
In terms of behaviour I haven’t changed – I’m still being really careful. From what I’ve read the vaccine doesn’t necessarily stop you from passing the virus on to others (or this hasn’t been proven yet) so no change in behaviour really as I work in the hospital at weekends and come into contact with positive cases a few times a day. [UK government guidance states: The vaccine cannot give you COVID-19 infection, and a full course will reduce your chance of becoming seriously ill. We do not yet know whether it will stop you from catching and passing on the virus, but we do expect it to reduce this risk.]
I told my friends who mostly thought it was a good idea but did share my scepticism about the way it’s being implemented in this country. It’s staggering how the government can even fuck up the solution to the problem. Anon, 27, Liverpool.