A-Z

Covid-19 in the community

Vaccination

In this section we describe people’s responses to Covid-19 vaccination. From December 2020/January 2021, people in the UK were invited for vaccinations in successive waves, with public-facing keyworkers, such as health and social care workers, older people, and people with existing health vulnerabilities being invited first. At the time of their interviews, some people had already been called for vaccination, whilst others were still waiting to become eligible for vaccination.
 

 

Beth is often asked about her experience of Covid, but is unsure that it helps others because everyone’s experience is different.

Beth is often asked about her experience of Covid, but is unsure that it helps others because everyone’s experience is different.

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When me and my best friend got it, our first one, everybody had just come back from being off with Covid, so they obviously couldn’t get it. So, we were one of the first loads that could get it. So, everybody was sort of asking us what it was like, did it hurt and what was I feeling afterwards. And obviously I said it, to be honest with you, this is just how it was with me, with me it was fine. But I mean you could ask somebody else, and they could say they were poorly with it. But it really depends on you really and how you take it. So, I said I can’t really answer that question, but for me I’d rather have the vaccine twenty times a year, than have Covid again.

 


 
People described a range of responses to these Covid vaccination efforts. Topics include:

  • Perspectives on taking Covid vaccines
  • Being convinced to take up Covid vaccines
  • How having personally experienced Covid illness influenced vaccines decisions
  • Experiences of taking Covid vaccines, including their common side-effects

 
Perspectives on taking Covid vaccines

We interviewed people in 2021, across the period when vaccines were first becoming available up to when booster shots were being delivered. Some people we spoke to expressed gratitude that vaccines for Covid-19 had been developed. They hoped that the vaccines would provide a way for ‘life to go back to normal’. Normal meant different things to different people:

  • Relaxing Covid prevention and containment measures
  • Enabling people to ‘go out and do things’
  • Making Covid-19 to become a less dangerous and more manageable disease

The vaccines gave some ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ even if, as people observed, new variants and mutations would continue to evolve.
 

 

Emdad hoped that vaccines would make Covid more like flu so that life could go on as normal.

Emdad hoped that vaccines would make Covid more like flu so that life could go on as normal.

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Because of the vaccinated, we’re hoping for the best that corona we can maybe control and we’re expecting that corona will be like a flu like symptoms. Like I had a flu jab every winter, then maybe I’ll have a corona vaccine every year at the same time just like the flu. If it’s like the flu, then we can carry out our normal duty, normal job, life can go on.


 
Related to these expressions of hope or gratitude were people’s feelings of excitement about getting the vaccine themselves. Some people we spoke had already taken a Covid vaccine and described feeling ‘pleased to have got it into the system’. Some people who were still waiting to be called for a vaccine described themselves as ‘eager’ to get the vaccines, ‘at the front of the queue’, or even ‘desperate’ for the vaccine. Paul was keen for his family to get the vaccine so his children could see their grandparents, who ‘won’t be around forever’.
 
Other people expressed less excitement about Covid vaccines. They felt cautious or uncertain about vaccines. People we spoke to had different concerns. Some people were worried about vaccine safety, expressing doubts about what was in them and how quickly vaccines had been developed. Others were anxious about possible negative side-effects, either in the short-term or over longer periods. For example, some people we spoke to worried that vaccines might affect fertility. Because of these concerns, some people wanted to check with their health professionals before taking the vaccine. This was particularly common for people with existing health vulnerabilities, such as comorbidities or allergies, or who were/wanted to get pregnant. Health professionals often provided reassuring responses, confirming that there were no extra risks of vaccines on things like fertility. Some people felt more vulnerable to vaccine side-effects or felt that ‘natural immunity’ was preferable to vaccination.

 

 

Kashif worried about vaccine safety but family members working in healthcare settings encouraged him to trust the science.

Kashif worried about vaccine safety but family members working in healthcare settings encouraged him to trust the science.

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What were your concerns?
 
First of all, thinking straight away is you know, the, they made a vaccine really quickly. And then you don’t know what the actual truth behind it is. Is it gonna work? Is it something good for you? Is it not good for you? But like I said, as the family members that’re working in the hospital they said, no, it’s fine. Don’t think about anything. Don’t worry about what people are saying. It goes, obviously scientists have made this and it, we work in the hospital and we’re telling you, you need to take it.

 

 

Gertrude preferred ‘natural immunity’ to vaccines because of her experience of vaccine side effects in the past.

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Gertrude preferred ‘natural immunity’ to vaccines because of her experience of vaccine side effects in the past.

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How do I feel about vaccines, there’s a lot going on in the media about vaccines so I, I don’t know the things it’s made of and I personally don’t like vaccines. I had a vaccination, yellow fever vaccine in, about two years ago, my arm it’s still got the bump which is not supposed to be but the bump’s still there. Flu vaccines, the last flu vaccine I got I collapsed on the ward, so I don’t do very well with vaccines, every time I had the flu vaccine before I was very ill. And when I decided to not take the flu vaccine that year, I did get flu and so I thought no I’m not going to be taking them again. I stopped taking flu vaccines for about five years and I was fine, all those five years I never had flu, the sixth year I took the vaccine and that’s when I collapsed at work. So, vaccines for me are not something that I, I believe in like eating right, exercise and do, because the way our body’s made it’s made in such a way that it’s meant to repair itself, it’s meant to be able to fight if you give it the right things. For me vaccines are not the right things, the right things are the natural things to help us.


 
People we spoke to were aware that some people were more ‘vaccine hesitant’ than others. They understood that Covid vaccines were sometimes less commonly taken by a range of different groups in the UK: ‘elderly’ people, ‘teenagers’, people of Muslim and Jewish faiths, and people from minority ethnic groups.
 
Although concerns about Covid vaccines were expressed by people from all backgrounds and walks of life, some of the minority ethnic participants we spoke to expressed specific concerns about historical and current racial discrimination in healthcare settings and medical research. Some people we spoke to raised religious objections to vaccines and spoke about vaccine debates as a sign of the day of judgement and the final destiny of humankind. As we discuss in ‘Sources of information about Covid-19’, many people did not trust the government and mainstream media. Instead, they followed news circulating on social media and WhatsApp. Sometimes people encountered ‘fake news’ on social media, for example false information that vaccine ingredients are not halal. 
 
 

Tony X sees vaccine hesitancy in his community as deeply rooted in historical racism.

Tony X sees vaccine hesitancy in his community as deeply rooted in historical racism.

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There’s a mistrust from, from the past. And, and there was a Tuskegee study which was done some years ago into syphilis. There’ve been, people don’t, don’t trust politicians in terms of they say one thing and then do another. The, the fear factor of the, the rumours of, I won’t even mention them. I don’t wanna mention all the, the rumours that came out and, and was circulated on WhatsApp. The technology that, that came out and, and people sort of tuned into that and so on without going and doing their proper research. Because I say, only go to the tried and tested scientific websites. Those are the ones you need to visit. Don’t go to some person whose gonna say, “Oh, try these herbal remedies and, and this homeopathic thing and so on and that will cure you of what have you.” One needs to be mindful of where you’re going and researching for your information. And, and some of the reluctant people have eventually come around.

 

Shirin worried about rumours that vaccine ingredients weren’t halal.

Shirin worried about rumours that vaccine ingredients weren’t halal.

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I think my brother said that I, I wasn’t very keen on having the vaccine at the beginning. My brother said, “No, go and have it. Don’t listen to the news. Don’t listen to other people.” There were people saying they were putting like animal things, not halal and not haram and had been checked by the Iman and everything. And my brother said, “It depends on each individual condition how the vaccines, all medications are like every medication whether you take Paracetamol, any medication they all have side effects afterwards.”


 
Unsureness was expressed by some of the minority ethnic participants we spoke to. Many were encouraging others to take up the vaccine, but still understood the historically rooted hesitancy they saw in their communities.
 
 

Elvis tried to ease his mother’s doubts about vaccines but understood her reservations.

Elvis tried to ease his mother’s doubts about vaccines but understood her reservations.

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My mum prays, you know. Is Christian, you know. And then what she say to me, you know, that this vaccine is, that according to my mum, is not good, you know. It will, they are trying to basically to make one new world order, you know. She say people have to follow this you know. They bring their illness, you know. Now they’re going to have one army, have one government, have one thing. People have, they will have to do. If you don’t get, they will come and stand one day say if you don’t have a vaccine, you won’t get a passport to go to this place you won’t do this you won’t do that. So, she’s against it, you know, she’s against it. And then she said “this vaccine can do bad things to your body, you know. It can, you know, it can make you not have babies”, you know. “It cannot have you, have you many things”. So, it’s not even good for your body, you know. And then I said to her: “But me, I work in the NHS, and they they’ve told me nothing wrong with it, I can have it and not have any problems.”

 

 
Being convinced to take up Covid vaccines

Because of their uncertainties, many people we spoke to described trying to find out more about vaccines. This sometimes reassured them about vaccine safety, but not always. People also spoke about vaccines with others, such as healthcare professionals. People also told us many stories about discussing their vaccine doubts with knowledgeable friends, family members and acquaintances who were either working in healthcare settings, like Doreen’s sister, or had other relevant professional expertise.
 

 

Doreen decided ‘I’ll just take the vaccine’ after reading up about it and learning from her sister’s vaccine experience.

Doreen decided ‘I’ll just take the vaccine’ after reading up about it and learning from her sister’s vaccine experience.

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After I debated it a long time, watched everything went on the internet, read as much as I can about it and stuff. I thought you know what, my sister had the vaccine and then she was alright. She had a few, didn’t feel very well the first, feel fine the first one the second one she didn’t feel as good but that passed, and I thought you know, I’ll just take the vaccine.


 
Some people we spoke to also described reassuring other family members about vaccines. Others described taking on wider roles encouraging uptake of vaccines in their workplaces, religious and wider communities. Some were proud of these roles, but others described how this left them open to criticism by others.
 
 

Laszlo describes hearing a lot of positive feedback for his efforts at encouraging vaccine uptake.

Laszlo describes hearing a lot of positive feedback for his efforts at encouraging vaccine uptake.

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I was backing up this campaign and one of my social media posts was, for example, showing a picture of me back in April 2020 with an oxygen mask on my face and I put the inscription, this was six days after I was tested positive with Covid-19 and another picture from January 2021 completely healthy and smiling and I said, this is six days after I got my vaccine. So, I was I was trying to promote this message that this is the way out of this pandemic by adhering to these measures, by taking the vaccine and this is not just for our own benefit, but we have the kind of social responsibility for others. And it was it was so good to hear a lot of positive feedback from people, from people that I know or even don’t know telling me that, “I’ve took the vaccine because of you. I took things more seriously because I’ve heard your story.”

 

Miura describes negative responses to her social media post about taking the vaccine.

Miura describes negative responses to her social media post about taking the vaccine.

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When I took it I made sure I put it in social media. Just so you know to raise more awareness, so people maybe are more engaged to take it. I don’t know? But a lot of people in my community said, “Why did you take this? Based on what?” I wouldn’t take this,” dah, dah, dah, dah. So, there is a lot of resistance.


 
As well as being convinced to take vaccines because of doing their own research, or because of discussing vaccines with others, sometimes workplace or travel policies required people to take the vaccine. Those who described taking the vaccine because of such policies felt pressured.
 
 

Emma’s cousin lost his job because he wouldn’t take the vaccine, which she thinks is unfair.

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Emma’s cousin lost his job because he wouldn’t take the vaccine, which she thinks is unfair.

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My cousin has lost his job because they said you have to have the vaccine. So now I’m trying to get somebody to put up a petition to ban mandatory vaccines for employment, but I haven’t been able to get anybody else to go along with it. I think that there is, it’s discrimination to say that you haven’t had the vaccine, you can’t keep your job, or you can’t work because the point is if the vaccine is supposed to be protecting the people who’ve got the vaccine, then they don’t have to worry about you who haven’t got the vaccine. So, with people losing their jobs, that isn’t fair.

 

Mudasar thought that he would eventually have to take the vaccine in order to travel.

Mudasar thought that he would eventually have to take the vaccine in order to travel.

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I know that eventually they’re going to inject inside me but I, if I have personal choice, I don’t want the vaccine.
 
Why do you say that, that you know eventually they’ll make you do it?
 
I need to go back home to Pakistan and travel and the way I look at it, they’re going to make it difficult for people to travel like, you know, they want you to be jabbed and all that so, sooner or later, they will get me, but I will take my time.

 

 
How having personally experienced Covid illness influenced vaccine decisions

The people we spoke to had personal experience of Covid illness. This influenced their uptake of Covid vaccines in multiple ways. Jess is a doctor and was offered the vaccine early when there was less evidence about the safety of vaccines during pregnancy. When she then got Covid, this made her feel taking the vaccine was less urgent, as she would now have some level of immunity against the virus.

 
Other people we spoke to said their experience of Covid had convinced them that taking the vaccine was important, because of how sick the virus had made them.
 

 

June was sceptical about the vaccine but changed her mind because she was so ill with Covid.

June was sceptical about the vaccine but changed her mind because she was so ill with Covid.

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I’ve had my first jab. I think I’m due to have my second jab tomorrow. And I’ve been very sceptical this time last year about having the Covid jab. I didn’t like the idea, it felt quite evasive to me. But having had Covid as bad as I did and for as long as I did, I decided to have to, had to have the jab. So, I had the first jab in March.

 

Sonal’s opinion of vaccines turned ‘upside down’ after she got Covid.

Sonal’s opinion of vaccines turned ‘upside down’ after she got Covid.

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Before Covid I was like my son was asking me whether “mum, if the vaccine comes, would we take it?” and I said, “No, I wouldn't take it.” He goes, “Why? You should take it.” And I said, “No, but, if I’m healthy, why should I take it?” And the whole thing change upside down since I got this type of symptoms from Covid.
 
So, you mean you weren’t sure you were going to take it until you got Covid?
 
I wasn’t going to take it, that I was sure for. I wouldn't have taken if, if I didn't have Covid. I was sure that if I’m okay, why should I take it, at that time? But when I got Covid, I experienced the worst thing. So, I took it.
 

 


 
Lots of people we spoke to who had taken a vaccine before they caught Covid thought that their and others illness experiences were easier because the vaccine had given them some protection. You can hear more about this in the section ‘Catching Covid again’.
 
 

Sally thought that her mother had a mild version of Covid-19 because of being double vaccinated.

Sally thought that her mother had a mild version of Covid-19 because of being double vaccinated.

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Sally: Well, what I’m so relieved about is, in the past I’ve been really worried about infecting my mum and getting with her being really ill because obviously she’s in her late 70s and in that vulnerable. But the fact that she’d been double vaccinated and then caught it off me and had a mild version, makes you feel a lot better, actually that those sort of vaccines to that point did work. To the extent that it’s you know, you don’t have to stop your mum seeing your kids because you’re worried about them, you know, we have a bit more confidence in, in that, so long may that continue.

 
Experiences of taking Covid vaccines, including their common side-effects

Many people talked about possible side-effects from Covid vaccines. Some people we spoke to dismissed concerns about vaccine side-effects because they felt that they were generally not the type of person to get side effects from vaccines. Others, by contrast, were nervous about Covid vaccines because they had often experienced side effects before. Others had taken all the childhood vaccinations but felt differently about the Covid vaccines.

 

Rachel had plenty of experience with flu vaccines and had never had side effects before.

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Rachel had plenty of experience with flu vaccines and had never had side effects before.

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Once I’ve had my second jab that’ll be, that’ll be quite good but then probably start, you know, in six months’ time have to have another one, you know. Like the flu jab because I’m, I’m HIV positive I have the flu jab every year so, so it’s not that different and I’m lucky I, touch wood, I’ve never had a reaction to any of these vaccines not even a dead arm or anything. So, for me I’m quite happy to go, to go and have the vaccine.

 

Helen was sensitive to medication and had almost every symptom of the Covid vaccine listed in the information booklet.

Helen was sensitive to medication and had almost every symptom of the Covid vaccine listed in the information booklet.

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I should’ve read the booklet that they’d given me at the time, and I didn’t, I thought I could see it. I had every symptom, except one, I can’t remember what the one was, as in, there was one that I didn’t have, but yeah. I’m sensitive, whether this is anything to do with it, I’m really sensitive to any sort of medication.

 

Nargis had taken all her childhood vaccinations but felt differently about Covid vaccines at first because of rumours.

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Nargis had taken all her childhood vaccinations but felt differently about Covid vaccines at first because of rumours.

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I mean we; I’ve had all the other vaccines ever since I was young, you know, sort of from child to adult and at first, I was a bit sceptical and then, obviously, all these stupid rumours going round.


 
Many people we spoke to who had already taken the vaccines by the time of their interview described side-effects. The most common were:

  • Swelling and pain around the area of the injection
  • Fever
  • Tiredness
  • Shaking and shivering

For some people we spoke to, the severity of the side effects they experienced after their first dose of the vaccine made them feel worried about taking the second dose of the vaccine.
 

 

Noam wishes he had been warned about how significant the side effects could be.

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Noam wishes he had been warned about how significant the side effects could be.

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I could say that the second, the second dose of the Moderna vaccine had an influence on me exactly how I felt when I had Covid. So, when I had the second dose of the Moderna for 36 hours I felt completely not well. It was completely as if I was going through Covid. I think it’s, I think it’s something that they should make people more aware of because I wasn’t told that, when I had my vaccine that the likelihood is to happen. I understood that I might feel a bit weak you know, could have a small influence on you. Of course, you have to sit down for five or ten minutes to see that you’re okay afterwards. But, you know, I wasn’t told that I’d be feeling that not well for 36 hours and that people should probably cancel all commitments after the Moderna vaccine for 36 hours because that’s the effect.

 

Irene had a bad experience with side effects from her first Covid vaccine. She felt unwilling to risk a second dose.

Irene had a bad experience with side effects from her first Covid vaccine. She felt unwilling to risk a second dose.

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I won’t have the second one, which is due soon, until I know what’s going on with my arm. So, it’s from the site of where I had the injection so it went from being painful to like I can’t put my bra on. And I can’t hang clothes on the line, putting coats, you know, putting clothes on it’s really, in the gym I can’t do shoulder presses, whereas I was able to do shoulder presses. I can’t do it on that arm. So, it’s really kind of, can’t like carry my handbag is usually on my left arm and I can’t put it on my shoulder. I have to put it like, you know, like the like the posh ladies, over your arm as opposed to on my shoulder [laughs]. And that, so that has been a big downfall for me.

 


 
Some of the people we spoke to were living with persistent symptoms of Covid, or long Covid. Sometimes the vaccine helped with lessening those symptoms.
 
 

Laurie experienced improvement in her Long Covid symptoms after taking the vaccine.

Laurie experienced improvement in her Long Covid symptoms after taking the vaccine.

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After all you know, this would’ve been at the beginning of March, I finally had a referral to the cardiac clinic, prescribed me ivabradine, and I had my first vaccine. I went straight from the cardiac clinic to have my first vaccine. First vaccine felt like going through the whole thing, my entire year. And then suddenly I thought ‘oh, hang on.’ It was like the sun had come out like the cloud had gone from my brain. And I suddenly felt like myself again…

Stayed on the ivabradine but I still felt you know something, there was a very concrete gear change, when I had, when I got the vaccine, first vaccine. Then it took about 6 weeks, then the vaccine bounce stopped, but by the time the second one came around again, and I had the second one in June, the same thing happened. And I was able to come off the ivabradine. And my heart rate is now normal, my blood pressure and I am able to do you know, kind of 5/6000 steps in a day, maybe even more.

 

Shaista experienced different effects from her first and second doses of vaccine on her Long Covid symptoms.

Shaista experienced different effects from her first and second doses of vaccine on her Long Covid symptoms.

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There’s been a lot of information out there about the vaccine and how those with long Covid do feel some of their symptoms alleviate and get better after the vaccination and I felt that as well. The first one in particular, I did feel that I was bumped up the queue because of my long Covid diagnosis so I’ve got the vaccine far quicker than I should have done which I’m pleased about because I was suffering, so I did feel less exhaustion. The second time, the second vaccination, I was completely wiped out. I was quite surprised by how much it really knocked me out but again I was told that’s not unusual for those who don’t have side effects from the first vaccination sometimes they have more the second and vice versa. But I also think with Covid and with the vaccination, I think you can go down a rabbit hole in terms of researching and finding out what things happen, what happen and what don’t happen.


 
For more information on people’s experience of catching Covid again after vaccination see the section ‘Catching Covid again’.
 

 

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