COVID-19 vaccinations are being rolled out at record speed across the UK and UNISON members have been among some of the first people to receive them.
National statistics show that young women are a particularly vaccine-hesitant group in society, with a recent survey finding that one in four women aged 18-34 would not take it.
Le’Asha Gabriel-Richards is a 26 year old critical care nurse in Manchester. Le’Asha was concerned at first, but has now had both doses of the vaccine: “In the first round of vaccinations, I was a little bit wary. But I did some research and spoke to my other friends who are nurses for their opinions. When they all said they were having it, I felt more reassured.
“The real turning point for me came when my mum got sick. My mum had COVID-19 in December and she was really sick with it – it was a worrying time. I’ve seen people severely ill in hospital with COVID-19 who are younger than my mum. We were isolating and I was being a nurse at work, as well as at home when looking after my mum.
“My biggest worry has been carrying the virus from work and passing it on to my mum at home. I tested negative, so I know she didn’t get it from me, but now I’m vaccinated I feel so much more confident and safer knowing that I won’t be passing the virus on to my family. With the thought of there being new strains and variants, I’m glad to have a level of protection that protects me from potentially spreading it.”
Jessica Reed is 22 and had the vaccine for similar reasons to Le’Asha. Working throughout the pandemic in a health centre in Sunderland, she’s been constantly worrying about putting her family at risk.
Jessica said: “My family is full of people with underlying health conditions and I still live at home with my mum, dad and sister. Both my twin sister and mother have severe underlying health conditions – my sister is asthmatic and my mum has leukaemia. The vaccine is just another measure I can take to prevent them getting sick.
“My second dose is already booked for 10 April. I’ve been so stressed that I was potentially putting my family at risk for so long, so it’s really comforting to know that that risk will be reduced. It’s a relief, a light at the end of the tunnel.”
UNISON member Emily Michie, aged 23, was excited to receive her vaccine last month. She works as a senior administration assistant in a drug and alcohol service but has spent the whole of the last year shielding.
Finally, the vaccine has offered her some security: “It feels brilliant. It’s been such a long time coming. I’ve had a year of shielding now. I remember I was sent home on 17 March 2020 – slightly earlier than lockdown because I’m immunosuppressed and in the office I work in, nurses were seeing clients every day.
“I have really bad anxiety, and the thought of going to a public place rather than a GP made me really wary. But the staff were wonderful, and good at putting me at ease. Everyone there was so appreciative of all the work that they were doing. They were rushed off their feet from the minute I went in, but they just got on with it.
“You’d think health staff giving the vaccine would be worn down, but they’re just happy it’s coming to an end.”
UNISON national young members officer Josephine Grahl said: “Many young workers in health and social care who have been at the frontline during the pandemic will be relieved to be offered the vaccine and the extra protection it affords.
“But of course we know that some young women will have questions and be worried about possible side-effects.
“Taking the vaccine is an individual choice, so it’s important that it’s provided by trained health professionals, and that young people have access to clear, reliable information so that they can ask any questions that concern them and feel confident and secure in their decision.”