‘Unless I want to live under a rock, I’ve got no choice’

Why is the uptake of the Covid-19 vaccine lower among young people across Northamptonshire?

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By Katie Wheatley

With nearly 47 million people in the UK having received the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccination, it’s safe to say the rollout is well underway as life returns to ‘normal’.

19 July marked the easing of all coronavirus restrictions and as we attempt to resume to the life we once knew and loved, the concern lies with the most socially-active in society – young people.

Although many have taken the first opportunity to dance the night away in their favourite nightclub, meet up with friends from far and wide, and do the things they’ve missed the most over the last year and a half, data has shown some Northamptonshire citizens aged 39 and under are hesitant to get the vaccine.

There has recently been talk of not being able to enter venues with large crowds unless you have an NHS Covid Pass – you must have had both doses of the vaccine, a negative PCR or lateral flow test result in the past 48 hours, or a positive PCR result within the past six months and have completed self-isolation, to receive one. The passes may eventually be required for international travel and access to some events and venues in the UK, such as nightclubs, leaving some feeling they have no option but to get vaccinated.

“I didn’t take the first opportunity to have the vaccine. I was definitely hesitant and I still am.

“I said at the beginning I wasn’t going to get it, full stop. It was optional then, but now they are saying you can’t do this and that without it.

“I feel unless I want to live under a rock for the next few years, I’ve got no choice. I’m going to book my vaccine after a month or so of not even considering it,” said a 19-year-old female from Northamptonshire.

As of 31 July, only 62.7 per cent of 18-24-year-olds and 59 per cent of 25 to 29-year-olds received their first dose in Northamptonshire – despite all over 18s being able to book in from 17 June. This compares to 75.4 per cent of 40-44 year olds and 81 per cent of 45 to 49 year olds (although these age groups were eligible for the vaccine earlier).

But why are some deterred from having it? One explanation could be conspiracy theories around the vaccine and a distrust of government.

A 20-year-old male from Northamptonshire, who preferred to remain anonymous, said:

“We are being guilt tripped into getting a rushed vaccine to be able to go to clubs, restaurants and on holidays against our rights, and I see it as a way for more government control over the population.

“From my understanding, it takes well over ten years to reveal the long-term side effects and impacts on health caused by medical testing and trialling.”

However, some individuals jumped at the opportunity to have their first dose and are booked in for their second before the NHS Covid Pass is rumoured to come into force.

21-year-old Tazmin Jeffery, a University of Northampton student, said:

“I felt as though it was completely my choice whether I had it. I had already made up my mind when they first began releasing the vaccine, despite knowing I wasn’t going to be offered it for a while.

“I wasn’t worried about the side effects, as everything has them, and I believe if they didn’t think it was safe, they wouldn’t have given it out to masses.”

Tazmin knows of people who have had the first dose and are refusing the second, as well as those refusing it altogether. She added:

“They are ‘trusting their immune systems’, which I think is unfair on those who cannot get vaccinated, and their choice is taken from them.

“Everybody has a choice, but it’s important to look out for those who don’t. Sometimes we are too selfish to think about others, which is upsetting.”

Unlike Tazmin, some young women we spoke with from Northamptonshire were deterred from getting the vaccine after listening to misinformation about infertility links. Deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van Tam has dismissed the rumour as ‘nonsense’ and the Royal College of Midwives as well as the British Fertility Society have also publicly come out against the misinformation.

“A lot of young people are concerned about the long-term unknown side effects, and this can be quite scary.

“But some are also misled by those that are anti-vaccine and are spreading wild conspiracy theories – they are scared into believing false accusations about the vaccine,” added Tazmin.

Despite these concerns among women, coupled with impacts on their menstrual cycle being a potential short-term side effect of the vaccine, there is a gender gap in the uptake and more women than men are getting vaccinated across the UK. As of 11 July, 1.4 million men aged 18 to 24 received at least one dose, whereas an additional 100,000 women had at this stage. The same pattern has emerged in 25 to 29, and 30 to 34-year-olds.

However, this doesn’t take away from the fact that there are fewer individuals aged 39 and under getting vaccinated, regardless of their gender. There are many factors that may have affected young people’s ability to get the vaccine, such as an all-time high in people receiving self-isolation notifications from the NHS and not being able to go to their appointments as a result – but back in mid-June, the NHS Northamptonshire’s CCG Governing Body discussed how they planned to encourage over 18s to get the jab.

“Younger people don’t want to book. They just want to turn up. They want to be able to rock up somewhere. They don’t mind queueing,” said Anna Dorothy, Deputy Director of Northamptonshire’s Covid Vaccination programme. They identified the national booking system worked for previous age groups, but they needed to find new ways to innovate the population they had just began vaccinating.

The NHS vaccination programme introduced the ‘grab-a-jab’ campaign the weekend before the restrictions were lifted on 19 July in a final push to protect the country. This took place in many areas, and has been offered at venues across Northants.

When asked about what will happen in September when students move back to universities across the country and if this will cause issues with receiving their second doses, Anna added anyone can book into any centre using the national booking system. She also sparked discussion on the potential of a pop-up vaccination centre at the University of Northampton, as it’s key that the most socially active members of society have “equal and equitable” access to the vaccine.

This article was written by Katie Wheatley, a University of Sheffield journalism student from Northampton, who has joined us during August on work experience.