‘I dread to think how ill I would’ve been without Covid jabs’: Londonderry woman Claire Allan

Acclaimed NI author Claire Allan is currently battling Covid-19. She tells HELEN MCGURK why we should all remain vigilant even if we have had both vaccinations

Saturday, 31st July 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Saturday, 31st July 2021, 11:44 am
Claire Allan is thankful for vaccinations after becoming very ill with Covid

Bestselling author Claire Allan, 45, began to feel unwell a week ago during Northern Ireland’s unaccustomed heat wave.

At first, the Londonderry mum-of-two put her feelings of tiredness and nausea down to the oppressive heat, but it soon became apparent it was more than the weather causing her to feel so ill.

“Last Friday morning it was so hot and I felt really tired. I thought the heat was just getting to me. By lunchtime I still felt out of sorts, but nothing that you could have put it down to other than the heat.”

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Dr Connor Bamford, virologist at Queen's University Belfast

But as the day progressed, Claire knew something more serious was wrong. Her 17-year-old son had tested positive for Covid-19, so she did a lateral flow test which came back negative.

“By 8pm I was aching all over. It was so painful.

“All my joints, everything was sore to touch.. sitting down, where the chair was touching the skin beneath me, everything was painful. I also had shooting pains going through my legs and arms.

“I did another lateral flow test and it was positive, but I knew anyway by how sick I was that it was definitely Covid. I had all the symptoms, particularly for the Delta variant, everything hurt, I felt really dizzy, really light-headed and nauseous.”

Claire caught the virus despite being vaccinated. She had her first AstraZeneca jab in March, and her second in May.

Speaking to the News Letter by phone, she has to stop every so often to cough.

“Thankfully, I didn’t have shortness of breath. They say the vaccine is going to keep you out of hospital and I have no doubt about that. I dread to think what it would have been like without it.”

She added: “It (the illness) didn’t get scary, but it did get really unpleasant.”

One of the worst aspects of the virus for Claire has been the nausea, which she describes as “horrendous”.

“It’s been really, really bad. It’s really difficult even to take fluids, because it makes me feel really sick. It’s sort of easing off a bit now.

“I didn’t lose my sense of smell or taste, but with everything there is an awful metallic taste. It’s disgusting. Everything tastes funny and that metallic taste is there all the time at the back of my throat - apparently that is a problem with the new variant.”

STARTING TO FEEL BETTER

A week on from the onset of symptoms, Claire said she is now “definitely on the way up”.

“I don’t have the same aches and pains, which is brilliant, but the fatigue is unreal. If I go to have a shower I generally fall asleep afterwards. I need to have a lie down, I just have no energy. And I just feel really out of sorts. It’s like a really heavy head cold, but it’s definitely not where it was. I know I am starting to come round, but I am surprised at how I still do feel.

“It’s years since I’ve had a proper flu, this is similar, but different. Once your fever breaks with a flu, you start to come round a bit quicker, this feels a bit more drawn out. I would have expected to have a bit more energy by now than I do. I’m sleeping more now than I did at the very start, so I think my body just wants to rest and build up its strength again.”

Claire still can’t believe she has been so ill, despite being double-jabbed.

“You wonder who you might have been around who’s more vulnerable and if they catch if off you. That’s a lot to carry - worrying if you have passed it on.”

Her advice to others considering opting out of the vaccination programme is this: “Once we start going into winter again, give yourself the best chance because it’s definitely not a wee flu or a wee cold, or something that just get over. I’ve been off my feet for a full week and I don’t know when I’ll be up and about and doing what I normally would be doing. If I hadn’t been vaccinated I dread to think what it would have been like.”

ADVICE FROM QUB VIROLOGIST DR CONNOR BAMBFORD

Claire’s sentiments are echoed by Dr Connor Bamford, a virologist at Queen’s University Belfast, who said even though the vaccines are “not perfect”, they are a crucial step in preventing serious illness or death.

“The vaccines mean you are less likely to catch the virus and then spread it. We don’t really know why, but we know some people are quite susceptible to the virus, and we also know that the virus is very different, so that there are multiple variants and the Delta variant is a bit more resistent to the vaccines.

“It is to be expected that we are going to see people who have had a two-dose vaccine actually get sick. But it is important to say that the vaccine massively reduces your likelihood of actually getting sick.”

Dr Bamford added the illness experienced by those who are double-jabbed and get the virus, is likely to be much less severe than for those unvaccinated, adding both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines, but work really well against stopping severe disease.

“On a population level you can see there are less people sick. You can see that when you compare this wave, where we have vaccines, to what we would have seen at the start (of the pandemic). We would expect hundreds of thousands of people to be in hospital and even dying, but we are not seeing that.The risk of getting really sick or dying is much higher if you don’t have the vaccine.”

The Department of Health NI also outlined the safeguards offered by the vaccines.

A spokesperson said: “COVID-19 vaccines offer very high levels of protection against serious illness. Two doses of any vaccine provide 70 per cent protection against infection and 95 per cent protection against severe disease requiring hospital admission, so the benefits of receiving both doses of vaccine are overwhelmingly positive.

“Whilst early indications suggest that the vaccines are also very effective at preventing transmission, they will never prevent all cases of infection or hospital admissions and we are still learning to what extent people who have been vaccinated can catch COVID-19 and pass it on to others.

“Until very high proportions of the population are vaccinated, we must continue to protect each other by practicing the behaviours we have become accustomed to.

“If you are instructed to self-isolate you must do so because there is still a risk that you might spread infection to others, even if you have been vaccinated and feel entirely well yourself. Getting vaccinated when it is offered to you, and crucially – continuing to take action to reduce the risk of transmitting or catching COVID-19 – are the best ways for us to limit the impact of the pandemic until the virus is under control and everyone has had the chance to be fully vaccinated.”