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.
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.
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.
Gertrude preferred ‘natural immunity’ to vaccines because of her experience of vaccine side effects in the past.
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.
Shirin worried about rumours that vaccine ingredients weren’t halal.
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.
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.
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.
Miura describes negative responses to her social media post about taking the vaccine.
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.
Mudasar thought that he would eventually have to take the vaccine in order to travel.
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.
Sonal’s opinion of vaccines turned ‘upside down’ after she got Covid.
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’.
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.
Helen was sensitive to medication and had almost every symptom of the Covid vaccine listed in the information booklet.
Nargis had taken all her childhood vaccinations but felt differently about Covid vaccines at first because of rumours.
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
- 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.
Irene had a bad experience with side effects from her first Covid vaccine. She felt unwilling to risk a second dose.
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.
Shaista experienced different effects from her first and second doses of vaccine on her Long Covid symptoms.
For more information on people’s experience of catching Covid again after vaccination see the section ‘Catching Covid again’.