By Jean Rafferty

FINALLY I’ve been vaccinated. I’ve made multiple calls to the Covid helpline, been to two drop-in centres, called three GP practices, contacted my MSP, who wrote to the local health authority, exchanged a number of emails with their CEO, tried and failed to contact the ombudsman and finally written to the government.

My problem? I had the temerity to want a say in which toxin was injected into my body.

I am not an anti-vaxxer. Vaccinations have prevented millions of deaths worldwide, from diptheria, polio, tuberculosis, and a host of other diseases.

But when vaccinations for Covid-19 came on stream at the beginning of 2021 I found myself deeply uneasy. Vaccines were being rushed through and yet again the population was taking the weight. In normal circumstances it takes 10 to 15 years to develop a vaccine yet here we were after a period of less than 15 months, going ahead with a programme of mass immunisation. Throughout the pandemic ordinary people have had their ability to work, take part in normal family life and even go outside the house curtailed, all in the name of protecting the NHS – which is supposed to protect them.

Now we were being asked to act as guinea pigs in a massive experiment.

I was worried personally as I’ve had many adverse reactions to drugs in the past. Stomach protection led to an endoscopy and CAT scan before they realised it was the medicine. I no longer take the flu jag after my arm swelled up and I was sick for five days. I even have to be careful going to the dentist. Modern injections contain adrenaline, which made my heart speed up so fast I thought I was dying – just so people don’t have to wait so long.

Would I wait for the vaccine? A friend said she was having it for other people, though other people had been so poisonous to me over my anti-lockdown views that the jury was out on that one.

Read more: Why we need to talk about Covid

I was still swithering when we got some terrible news. A friend we’d known since childhood had died, four days after having the vaccine. His sister was my best friend and he used to pick us up after dances in his car, a rare thing in those days. His wife said he’d seemed fine when he got up in the early hours to go to the toilet but he passed away as he’d lived, with no fuss. The inquest later revealed he had no underlying heart disease and hadn’t had a stroke; his heart had simply given out.

Shocked, I decided against the vaccine but my sister went ahead with hers. For days afterwards she had bad headaches and felt unwell. Eventually she decided to have a day in bed to knock it on the head. She got up at lunch for soup and seemed all right but I found her in the kitchen after, clinging on to the counter, legs giving way under her. We thought she was having a stroke. The NHS clearly did too as they turned up ten minutes after my call and took her to A&E.

They ruled out stroke but what was it? Would it even be linked to the vaccine in their records, given that it was 10 days after she’d had it?

Everything changed when a young friend had a baby. I knew she’d be anxious if I went along unvaccinated but wasn’t prepared to take AstraZeneca. Having been labelled selfish, irresponsible, and a Trump and Bolsonaro lover simply for being unwilling (and unable) to wear a mask, I was prepared to weather the charge of being unpatriotic for not wanting the British vaccine.

HeraldScotland: The AstraZeneca vaccineThe AstraZeneca vaccine

The AstraZeneca vaccine

The nurse at the first drop-in centre was very kind but said only under 40s were being offered Pfizer. (At 70 I was a tad above the cut-off point.) If they wanted Pfizer they might have to wait, though they could have AstraZeneca straight away. That made sense. The extreme storage conditions of -70 degrees required by Pfizer make it imperative you have enough people to use the 10-dose batch.

Letters went back and forth between me and the health authority and I was told there were no clinical reasons for me to have Pfizer. In fact the control of vaccines has, as always in this pandemic, been nothing to do with clinical decisions and everything to do with money and politics. Pfizer is more effective but costs five times more than AZ, which is being sold at cost price and is also more easily available as it’s manufactured in this country.

The Patients’ Charter states that people have the right to healthcare that encourages them to take part in decisions about their health and wellbeing, and gives them the information and support to do so. But newspapers have reported a number of ugly incidents at vaccination centres when people turned up expecting choice and instead were told, do as you’re told.

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A nice doctor called from the health authority and told me it was like any other medicine – the NHS offered it and you could take it or leave it. But the NHS doesn’t want you to leave it. It wants you to get vaccinated for the sake of herd immunity. The Government wants you to get vaccinated so that its figures look good.

The doctor said it wouldn’t be fair to let some people have a choice and not others, though that’s exactly what’s being enshrined in practice. Younger people can choose but not older. The young football fans driving our recent record rates could get Pfizer but I couldn’t. It wouldn’t matter even if I wrote to the First Minister, said the doctor, something I was well aware of, given the lack of dissent Nicola Sturgeon allows in her own party.

In the end I read about the drop-in bus offering Moderna to people from 19 to 39. The doctor had said the computer algorithms wouldn’t let them accept anyone over 40 but when I got there, the nurse entered me on her iPad without hesitation. The kindness of an ordinary person cut through the red tape.

Now I can’t wait to see the baby.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald