Just when we thought life was getting easier, Omicron showed up to derail our plans over the Christmas break. Yet for people living with long-term health conditions like Sickle Cell, a blood disorder that affects black people, this new resurgence of Covid is much more than an inconvenience – it’s an immense concern as they seek to keep themselves protected.
“Sickle cell disease beats up your immune system. In the summer, I sometimes wear jumpers, scared I might catch a cold,” says Gloria, a 20 year old with the condition. With cases of Covid-19 doubling every two to three days, she can feel the walls closing in. But if enough people around her take up the booster, which offers 70% protection against Omicron, her chances of catching life-threatening Covid rapidly declines.
“If I can go for the booster jab, trust me, anyone can”, says Gloria. Like some people, Gloria had her concerns about the Covid-19 vaccines. “Initially, I was scared about having the vaccine. I was waiting for everybody else to take the vaccine so that I could see how they would react. However, if you’re still waiting to get your jab, you’re putting yourself at more risk by not having it. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Amanda, a 42 year old nurse living in Corby, Northamptonshire also has Sickle Cell Disorder. After completing an NHS risk assessment for health professionals, she found out her ‘Covid age’ was 140. “My motivation for getting the booster was that I wanted to protect myself and my family. I’d been shielding for eight months, and my husband is a key worker so we’ve had to be very careful so that I don’t get Covid.”
As a medical professional, Amanda stressed that getting the booster isn’t just about your personal health, it’s about protecting the most vulnerable in society: “It’s important that people understand the severity of the virus and the impact it has on people that are susceptible to infections and viruses. Early on in the pandemic, we lost so many colleagues to Covid. That was one of my driving forces for taking the booster, to ensure that I’m safe on duty for my patients.”
As a nurse, Amanda meets many black patients who are reluctant to take up the vaccine because they feel it’s too new and untested. After tens of millions have safely received their jabs in the UK, Amanda’s message to doubters is clear: “As much as it’s a new vaccine, let’s look at all the other vaccines that we have to take, like childhood vaccinations. At some point, those vaccinations were new, and till today they remain core aspects of ensuring we grow up healthy. Prevention is better than cure, and prevention is better than death.”
It’s not just people with Sickle Cell that are at heightened risk of falling ill with serious Covid, people with other blood disorders including cancer are also highly vulnerable. Yvonne, a 53 year old Assistant head teacher from Surrey, thought life would get back to normal after her Acute Myeloid Leukaemia went into remission following chemotherapy – until the pandemic changed everything.
“I had just gotten back into work and the rhythm of life again, then Covid came. Suddenly, I had to shield and work from home,” says Yvonne. For her, getting the booster (and ensuring those around her get it too) means the freedom to see friends and get out and about: “it’s about living life as fully as possible because you don’t know what’s around the corner.”
Despite being pro-vaccine, she also understands why there’s been some hesitancy among black communities: “Historically, unethical medical interventions and practises have happened to our community both here in the UK and abroad, but medical science has moved on considerably.”
she added. But as someone who is clinically vulnerable, Yvonne knows how important it is to get the best out of life: “My motivation for getting the booster was about wanting to be able to live life as fully as possible. Our options are either we trust this vaccine if we want to live life fully, or we don’t and we live as a hermit.”
Charities like the Sickle Cell Society and the African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust are encouraging black people to take up the vaccine to protect the most vulnerable in our communities. It won’t cost you a penny, but it may be the greatest gift you give this Christmas. Anyone over 18 who’s had their second Covid jab in the last three months can book an appointment for the booster now or find a walk-in site at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-vaccination/book-coronavirus-vaccination/