I was a vaccine sceptic; now I’m not – Jayne Dowle

I’M pleased to report that after putting it off for weeks and ignoring the ever-more pleading texts from my GP practice, I’ve finally had my first dose of the Covid vaccine. The AstraZeneca one, if you’re asking.

Clinical Pharmacist Ellie Morton prepares to administer the Oxford AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine at a community vaccination centre.

I’ve been keeping quiet on the subject because, frankly, I was terrified. I finally caved in when my husband, who has rheumatoid arthritis, got the call via his GP.

We went together on Sunday morning, and apart from the half hour queue snaking around the car park, it was fine.

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There, I’ve admitted it. Was I so wrong to be scared? We are constantly told by those with concerns for our mental health that it’s okay to not be okay – unless it’s about the vaccine, when we’re prevailed upon to respond with a mixture of relief, jubilation and national pride.

Jayne Dowle has overcome her vaccine hesitancy to have her first Covid jab.

Not for a moment am I criticising the world-beating national roll-out – it is one of the few success stories of this terrible pandemic year – but I watched in horror as a slightly competitive edge crept in amongst friends.

Particularly disturbing were the comments from those in younger age groups given the vaccine earlier than their peers for a number of reasons, not all of them health-related.

A month or so ago, when vaccination nationalism started to rage, fear of missing out (FOMO) began to take on a slightly dark and twisted edge which I wanted no part of.

Rather, my heart is going out to all the teachers and school staff under the age of 40 still waiting patiently in line, and also, the pregnant mothers who know that, for them, any of the vaccines available are still not approved.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives thumbs up after receiving the first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine administered by nurse and Clinical Pod Lead, Lily Harrington at Westminster Bridge Vaccination Centre at St Thomas' Hospital in London.

I am certainly no Covid denier, or anti-vaxxer. Covid-related bereavement has visited my family and friends and I don’t need reminding of the deadly seriousness of the disease, or the importance of vaccination.

Both my children have had every shot available throughout their lives, even in the face of autism fears over the MMR dose. My grandma, who was born in 1910, almost died of measles as a child and was left with badly-damaged eyesight. I thanked the NHS every day for the advances in modern medicine which eradicated such a possibility for my own children.

Yet, like any intelligent, reasonably well-informed person, I did have my questions and doubts. Mostly, this was related to potential long-term effects and the speed at which it has been necessary to produce the various brands of vaccine.

Also, I was deterred seriously by suggestions that the AstraZeneca version can cause blood clots, because I have a largely asymptomatic blood disorder, Protein C deficiency, which heightens my propensity for clotting.

I had to wait until I was assured that the risk was no higher for me than for anyone else until my mind was put to rest on that one. It has been, by the way.

However, more pertinently, both my mother and mother-in-law suffered side effects after having their first jab; joint 
pains, nausea and headaches.

I also don’t need reminding that contracting Covid can have far more serious consequences, but with a full load of personal and professional commitments right now, I didn’t want to bring any of this on.

It turns out that I wasn’t alone in my concerns. According to the Office for National Statistics, 36 per cent of UK citizens who are vaccine-hesitant have strong side effect fears.

However, I kept all of my anxieties to myself and my long-suffering husband, because it would seem that to speak out attracts instant condemnation and judgment. Surely, I argued, airing concerns and prompting fair debate should help to reassure us? Not so, sadly.

I can’t think of anyone less deserving of public attack than the Rev Richard Coles, recent widower, former Communard and aimiable Strictly Come Dancing contestant.

However, when he took to Twitter earlier this year to share the uncomfortable side effects he’d suffered after having his Covid vaccination, I watched in horror as he suffered a pile-on that was certainly unwarranted.

The poor man, who lost his 42-year-old partner, David, to alcohol addiction in 2019, was subjected to a barrage of nasty comments accusing him of being irresponsible for expressing his thoughts. As I read the comments, I felt sad that thought now appears to be a crime.

It turns out that my fears over receiving the vaccine appear to be unfounded. My fears over free speech and the right to a personal opinion however, well, that’s an entirely different matter.

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