‘I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy’
Why two young Unite reps are urging young members to have the Covid jab
“They think because they’re so young it’s not going to affect them. I used to play football and netball constantly, almost every day. I was really fit. I didn’t expect it would hit me this hard. You just don’t know how it’s going to affect you so why take that risk? Covid is so unpredictable”
Kate Alderson 29 Unite rep
Unite rep Kate Alderson, 29, like many of us, has a phobia of spiders. So when she glimpsed a spider in her bed one evening, she started screaming. Alarmed, her partner asked her what was wrong.
“Can’t you see that spider?” she told him. But nothing was there – she was hallucinating.
It wasn’t until after a Long Covid course she took recently that she learned this is one of the many terrifying symptoms of Long Covid, which Kate has suffered from for more than six months now.
When she first caught Covid in December during the second wave of the pandemic, Kate thought as a young, fit and healthy person, she would be fine. Then on furlough, she eventually returned to work in January after she had fully recovered from the virus – or so she thought.
“I was on my first shift and towards the end I started coughing and feeling really tired,” she explained. “I didn’t think much of it at first. I thought it’s normal to feel tired after my first full shift in a long time since my job is quite labour intensive.”
But then when she got home, it hit her like a ton of bricks.
“I looked in the mirror and I was white as a sheet. I lay down and was then essentially bed-bound. I could hardly stand – when I did I felt faint. I started having really bad migraines. My hair started falling out. I couldn’t even do the dishes.”
Wanting to get the bottom of it, she phoned the GP who asked to see her. By this point, she was so weak she couldn’t drive herself to the doctor so her parents had to take her. Numerous tests revealed Kate had serious calcium and vitamin deficiencies – another sign of Long Covid.
“I’ve had to take various tablets for months. In addition to the migraines, I’ve also developed acid reflux. I was initially sleeping 18 hours a day and then I swung to the other extreme where I couldn’t sleep at all because of the anxiety. I lay awake all night just thinking am I ever going to get any better?
“I’m the type of person who used to love to go out and socialise all the time,” Kat explained. “I even had a season ticket for the football. But the way I’ve been feeling it’s really put me off from going out. I wouldn’t wish this virus on my worst enemy.”
Kate was infected with Covid before vaccines were available, but as soon as it was her turn to get the jab, she jumped at the chance.
“I couldn’t wait to have the jab,” she said. “The woman who gave me the jab told me, ‘You might feel ill for a couple days’ and I told her, ‘That’s fine with me - just give me the jab!’”
Since her continuing ordeal with Long Covid, Kate, who is also on Unite’s young people’s and women’s *committees, has become an ardent advocate of the vaccine. She especially encourages uptake among young people, many of whom, studies have shown, are reluctant to get the jab.
Although figures in August show that vaccine hesitancy is declining among people under 30, this age cohort remains the group least likely to get the jab. Overall, vaccine hesitancy among the entire adult population stands at 4 per cent, while in the under 30 age group, this figure stood at 7 to 10 per cent.
The most recent ONS data shows hesitancy among young people has begun to fall closer in line with the general adult population, but there still remain millions of eligible young people who are unvaccinated and unsure whether they will get the jab.
What’s more, young people are the most likely to have tested positive for Covid currently, with the latest data showing that Covid case rates in England were still among the highest in 20-to 29 year-olds.
In the summer, hospitalisations among young people steadily rose – in August, one in five people admitted to hospital with Covid in England were aged between 18 and 34. In comparison, during the last wave of the virus before vaccines were available, only 5 per cent of those hospitalised in England were young adults.
Unite rep Nick West, 27, who is also chair of the union’s London and Eastern young people’s committee, recently caught Covid himself, but because he had had his first jab, he says his illness wasn’t as severe.
“Unfortunately, the person who I caught Covid from ended up in hospital – he was completely unvaccinated,” Nick told uniteExtra. “But my partner who was fully vaccinated and who was forced to self-isolate with me didn’t catch Covid at all.”
Nick’s experience reflects several research studies that show that while being fully vaccinated doesn’t always protect against simple infection, it does make catching Covid much less likely, and all but eliminates the risk of serious illness and hospitalisation. And even one jab can have a degree of protective effect, with two jabs offering people the greatest level of protection against Covid-19 and its variants.
Both Nick and Kate believe young people may be hesitant because they may feel that they’ll be okay if they do catch the virus.
“They think because they’re so young it’s not going to affect them,” Kate noted. “I used to play football and netball constantly, almost every day. I was really fit. I didn’t expect it would hit me this hard. You just don’t know how it’s going to affect you so why take that risk? Covid is so unpredictable.”
Nick and Kate agree that having conversations with friends and family are vital in the collective effort to increase uptake of the jab and ensure we’re all safe.
“I think it’s so important to just have that mutual respect when we have those talks with friends and family – but at the same time don’t be afraid to challenge people’s views,” Nick explained.
“The people I’ve spoken to who are anti-vaccine are quite passionate about that stance so I think it’s important to understand where they’re coming from and not talk down to them. But we’ve also got to challenge the misinformation that’s out there.”
Nick recounted how he had a conversation with a friend who said he was going to wait to get the jab.
“I asked him what his fears were and we explored them together instead of me dismissing his fears out of hand. I’m not sure if that conversation alone made the difference but I know that he didn’t end up waiting and got the jab when his time came.”
“It’s been a rubbish time to be a young person during the pandemic and we all want life to get back to normal. Take the vaccine, and get involved in your union. Let’s work together to create a better, safer world in the workplace and beyond”
“You don’t know how Covid will affect you, both physically and mentally, so don’t take that chance. If we want life to get back to normal as well – to travel abroad, for example, and ensure that we don’t have more lockdowns, then it’s vital that we all get vaccinated“
Kate Alderson 29, Unite rep
Kate believes the media can have a strong influence on encouraging people to get the jab – and she wishes there were more stories about people like her so that young people understand the risks of not taking the vaccine.
“The symptoms of Long Covid aren’t talked about as much and they really need to be,” she said. “Even in some cases GPs themselves don’t know because there hasn’t been enough research done. I think if more people knew the devastating and debilitating impact Long Covid can have even in young people then they would be less hesitant in getting the jab.”
Not long after vaccines became available, Unite launched its own Get a Jab campaign to encourage members and their family and friends to get vaccinated. Nick says he’s proud that such a large and influential union like Unite is leading the way among trade unions in the effort to spread the word about the importance of Covid vaccines.
“It’s important for Unite to have a role in encouraging people to get the jab because we need to make sure our workplaces our safe,” he said. “Obviously not everyone is going to get the vaccine and we are going to come across people who aren’t vaccinated. This isn’t going to go away overnight. So it’s all about protection at work – Unite protects us in the workplace and so encouraging vaccine uptake is an extension of this vital work our union does.”
Both Kate and Nick have one message for young members.
“Get the jab – it’s as simple as that,” Kate said. “Take it from me – you don’t know how Covid will affect you, both physically and mentally, so don’t take that chance. If we want life to get back to normal as well – to travel abroad, for example, and ensure that we don’t have more lockdowns, then it’s vital that we all get vaccinated.”
“It’s been a rubbish time to be a young person during the pandemic and we all want life to get back to normal. Take the vaccine, and get involved in your union,” Nick urged young members. “Let’s work together to create a better, safer world in the workplace and beyond.”
by Hajera Blagg
“The people I’ve spoken to who are anti-vaccine are quite passionate about that stance so I think it’s important to understand where they’re coming from and not talk down to them. But we’ve also got to challenge the misinformation that’s out there“
Nick West, 27, Unite rep
Give me the facts…
Although recent figures show vaccine hesitancy is declining among under 30s, they are still least likely to get the jab Vaccine hesitancy among adults is 4 per cent, but for under 30s it’s as high as 10 per cent ONS data shows there are still remain millions of young people who are unvaccinated and unsure about the jab Young people are among the most likely to have tested positive for Covid Latest data shows England Covid case rates are among the highest in 20 to 29 year-olds
Hospitalisations among young people continue to rise
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