Perception of risk related to health and age

From the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, it appeared that older people and those with underlying health problems were at increased risk of severe illness. In this section, we explore people worries about getting Covid, depending on their underlying health and age. We also include the reflections of people we spoke to who were not so concerned for themselves, but for others, such as family members and friends, who they saw as vulnerable.

Topics covered in this section are:

  • Feeling (or not feeling) worried for oneself
  • Feeling worried about others
  • Making sense of unexpected outcomes

Feeling (or not feeling) worried for oneself

Even before Covid vaccine became available, several people we spoke to had not been too worried about getting covid themselves. For Sue, Karin, Tun, Laszlo and Sam this was because they considered themselves ‘young, healthy, without any pre-existing conditions’. In fact, Sam remarked that the more time passed without catching it, the less vulnerable she felt. Many people felt that even if they caught Covid it would be manageable.

The longer Sam stayed Covid-free, the more she felt she might not catch it.

Karin felt she’d be fine if she got Covid.

We also spoke with some people who were older and/or had existing health conditions but were still not too anxious about catching Covid. For example, Paul and Tony K, both in their 60s, felt that they led quite healthy lives and had a lower risk of getting severely ill.

Tony X has lived with Type 2 diabetes for several years but felt that his healthy lifestyle minimised his risk.

We also spoke with people who were more uneasy about catching Covid. For example, Sindhu has a lung condition and her family were worried about her. She felt that catching Covid was inevitable because her husband is a doctor working in Covid wards. Dawn has diabetes and works in a school. Although her diabetes was under control, being in school environment meant her exposure was higher, making her feel more vulnerable. Razia, who was pregnant, struggled to find information about what the risks from covid were for her and her baby.

Dawn, a school teacher, felt for her it was never ‘if you get Covid, but when you get Covid’.

Razia could not find any information about Covid during pregnancy.

Feeling worried about others

Several people told us that they feared for their loved ones: for most people, this was their parents and other older relatives and friends. People told us how difficult it was to maintain caring relationships with the constant fear of passing on Covid to the people they were trying to protect. Iqra recalled becoming quite unpopular among her relatives, who had recently recovered from Covid, when she banned them from visiting her parents. Samena remembers being ‘terrified’ for her parents throughout the pandemic. Her ‘worst nightmare’ came true when first she tested positive, and then her mother also tested positive.

Ayny convinced both her parents to leave their public-facing jobs to reduce their risk of catching Covid.

Quite often people would tell us they felt guilty about potentially passing on Covid to someone more vulnerable. As Miura describes below, this was especially the case when clinically vulnerable people were shielding, as there was an even greater sense of responsibility about not taking Covid infection to them.

Beth was worried about getting Covid and then passing it on to people she loved.

Miura felt nervous that she might infect the people in her care.

Cat had visited her family just before she got Covid and felt relieved when they were not infected.

The risk of serious illness from Covid has generally been lower for children, compared to older and frailer people. Genevieve, a microbiologist and mother of two, found comfort from the fact it was affecting children less. However, this was not so for parents whose children had underlying health conditions, like Nargis, Haliza and Jaswinder whose children have asthma. Nargis was so worried about her son that she did not let him go out for three months during the first lockdown in 2020.

Genevieve wasn’t sure if she had symptoms of breathlessness or whether she was anxious.

Nargis did not let her son out of the house for three months because he has asthma.

When vaccines became available in 2021, it offered relief to many people we spoke to. However, children were not eligible to receive them, and this worried a few parents. Pooja, who was already worried for her husband, who lives a liver condition, and her parents, was also conscious about her children being at risk.

Pooja felt her children had less immunity as they were not vaccinated.

Making sense of unexpected outcomes

Some people we spoke to talked about unexpected outcomes. For example, Mudasar, Goutam, Laszlo, and Tun who had always considered themselves fit and healthy, became quite sick with covid. Three of them had needed urgent hospital admission in intensive care for several weeks.

Dawn’s daughter has Addison’s disease, which compromises her immune system. She stayed Covid-free even when everyone else in the family became quite unwell. Some people we spoke to were confused about how Covid affected people differently. When entire households or social groups got infected, the symptoms of covid were different and sometimes completely unexpected: those assumed to be most vulnerable got mild symptoms, while others got serious symptoms. For example, Mudasar was very sick with covid, while his elderly father was fine. See ‘Living through and recovering from Covid symptoms’ for more information.

Different members of Gulsoom’s family experienced different Covid symptoms.

Risk from exposure

In this section we share the concerns that people had about catching Covid that connected to the different ways they were exposed to the virus....