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Grief, needle phobia, lack of trust: why we refused Covid jabs – and what changed our minds | Coronavirus

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The UK’s vaccine rollout has largely been a success: more than 90% of the population aged 12 and over has now had at least one dose, with just over half having had a second dose and the booster.

However, there are thousands of people who still haven’t had a jab, despite estimates suggesting that 90% of the most severely ill Covid patients in hospital at the moment are unvaccinated.

A number of strategies are being employed to convince those who have so fare avoided it get vaccinated, with outreach groups and GPs working to encourage take-up.

The Observer spoke to three people who have, in recent weeks, changed their minds. Here, they explain their initial hesitancy and the reasons for their change of heart.

Jess Haghkerdar, 32
PhD student, Fife

Ecology student Jess said she “wasn’t against the vaccine” and had received her first and second doses. But she had decided not to get the booster. In August 2021, shortly after having her second jab, she had a miscarriage at eight weeks pregnant. “I was worried the vaccine had contributed to my miscarriage and became wary of getting a booster once I found out I was pregnant again” she said.

She considered waiting until she had given birth to have her booster, but the became concerned about Omicron and about the number of unvaccinated pregnant women ending up in intensive care.

“I realised that my hesitance was based on grief and worry,” she said. “Just looking at the data proved that Covid is a much greater risk than any of my worst fears about the vaccine affecting my pregnancy.”

She changed her mind and had the booster. “I don’t want to get Covid while I am pregnant and be in a situation that could potentially be harmful to me and the baby.

“I’m a scientist and I know that if there was something seriously wrong with the vaccines, fellow scientists would stop at nothing to discover it and improve our understanding of them.

“I understand the visceral response and fear of vaccination, but we need to be realistic about how serious Covid can be and recognise how hard scientists and doctors have worked to keep us safe. No matter how I look at it now, getting vaccinated is worth it.”

Kevin Buckland, 46
PhD student and university lecturer, Sutton Coldfield

Kevin has had a phobia of needles from an early age. “I just hate them. I forged my mum’s signature when I was 14 to avoid getting the TB vaccination, saying she didn’t want me to have it. They wrote to her six months later, I was found out, and they dragged me into Birmingham kicking and screaming to have it.”

Kevin Buckland, 46, university lecturer, from Sutton Coldfield
Kevin Buckland overcame a longstanding needle phobia to get his jabs. Photograph: Guardian Community

His plan was to remain unvaccinated, taking precautions to avoid infecting himself and his elderly parents, who live nearby.

The emergence of the Omicron variant made Kevin reassess his approach, as he was concerned by its rate of transmission. “I was reading that just a whiff of an infected person’s breath would be enough to contract it. I’ve dodged it for this length of time and thought, how much longer can I go on?

“I booked an appointment about a month ago and chickened out. I then rearranged that one and finally went along. I just concentrated on the fact that it was a good thing. I hardly slept the night before.

“On the day, I didn’t even realise she had done it. It helped that I walked into the place not wearing glasses so I couldn’t see anything anyway. There was one person taking my details, the other had a hypodermic needle.

“I was talking to the one with a laptop about my phobia and, without me noticing, it was done. I didn’t feel a thing. I have my second booked for February and plan to get a booster.”

Adam, 26, from Cheshire

Adam (not his real name) lost faith in the government in 2020, largely because of Dominic Cummings and the Barnard Castle affair.

“I just thought if they can lie about something of this magnitude, what else can they lie about?”

He then became sceptical because of the speed of the vaccination programme rollout.

“I felt like it was quite rushed to begin with. There wasn’t much research published or data coming out, which led me to believe that it was being pushed out for other reasons – not just to save lives, but to save the economy, which to some extent I understand, but I feel like saving lives is much more important. Damage to the economy can be repaired, but you can’t bring back someone who has passed away.”

Over time Adam, who works for his family’s wealth management business, came to believe in the benefits of vaccination by following hospitalisation figures in trusted news sources.

“I was hesitant about getting my first vaccine, which I didn’t have until about three months ago. I had my second dose three weeks ago.

“The hospitalisation numbers for people who were vaccinated compared with people who were unvaccinated were scary. At the same time, I felt like there was a bit more control on the misinformation that was being put out there.

“The information that was published was worrying, so I thought it was best in the long run to get the vaccine, rather than not, despite what my feelings were at the time.”

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Solar storms may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in a given year

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In an approximate 11-year cycle, the sun blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field, which may disrupt our body clock and ultimately affect our heart



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17 June 2022

A solar storm

Jurik Peter/Shutterstock

Solar storms that disrupt Earth’s magnetic field may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in the US in a given year.

The sun goes through cycles of high and low activity that repeat approximately every 11 years. During periods of high activity, it blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field.

These so-called solar storms can cause glitches in our power grids and bring down Earth-orbiting satellites. A handful of studies have also hinted that they increase the risk of …

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UK Covid infection rate rising, with more than a million cases in England | Coronavirus

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Coronavirus infections are rising in the UK, figures have revealed, with experts noting the increase is probably down to the more transmissible BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants.

The figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), based on swabs collected from randomly selected households, reveal that in the week ending 11 June an estimated one in 50 people in the community in England are thought to have had Covid – around 1.13 million people.

The figure is even higher, at one in 45, in both Wales and Northern Ireland, while it was highest in Scotland where, in the week ending 10 June, one in 30 people are thought to have been infected.

While the figures remain below the peak levels of infection seen earlier this year, when around one in 13 people in England had Covid, the findings are a rise on the previous week where one in 70 people in England were thought to be infected. Furthermore, the data reveals increases in all regions of England, except the north-east, and across all age groups.

Experts say that a key factor in the increase is probably the rise of the Covid variants of concern BA.4 and BA.5.

“Infections have increased across all four UK nations, driven by rising numbers of people infected with the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants,” said Kara Steel, senior statistician for the Covid-19 Infection Survey.

While Steel said it remained too early to say if this was the start of another wave, others have warned it may already have begun, with increased mixing and travelling among other factors fuelling a rise in cases.

Among concerns scientists have raised are that BA.4, BA.5 and another variant on the rise, BA.2.12.1, replicate more efficiently in human lung cells than BA.2.

Prof Azra Ghani, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, said the latest figures were not surprising, and might rise further.

“This increase in infection prevalence is likely due to the growth of the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants, which as we have seen elsewhere in Europe, appear to be able to escape immunity generated from previous Omicron subvariants,” she said.

“It is therefore possible that we will continue to see some growth in infection prevalence in the coming weeks and consequently an increase in hospitalisations, although these subvariants do not currently appear to result in any significantly changed severity profile. This does however serve as a reminder that the Covid-19 pandemic is not over.”

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NHS to offer women in England drug that cuts recurrence of breast cancer | Breast cancer

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Thousands of women in England with breast cancer are to benefit from a new pill on the NHS which reduces the risk of the disease coming back.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has given the green light to abemaciclib, which cuts the chance of breast cancer returning after a patient has had surgery to remove a tumour.

Trials showed that patients who had the drug with hormone therapy had a more than 30% improved chance of their cancer not coming back after surgery, compared with hormone therapy alone.

“It’s fantastic thousands of women with this type of primary breast cancer will now have an additional treatment option available on the NHS to help further reduce the risk of the disease coming back,” said Delyth Morgan, the chief executive of charity Breast Cancer Now.

“The fear of breast cancer returning or spreading to other parts of their body and becoming incurable can cause considerable anxiety for so many women and their loved ones.

“New effective treatments such as abemaciclib, which can offer more women the chance to further reduce the risk of the disease recurring, are therefore extremely welcome and this is an important step change in the drug options available for this group of patients.”

The twice-a-day pill is suitable for women with hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative, node-positive early breast cancer at high risk of recurrence who have had surgery. About 4,000 women will benefit initially, Nice said.

Helen Knight, the interim director of medicines evaluation at Nice, said the draft recommendation came less than a month after abemaciclib received its licence.

“The fact that we have been able to produce draft recommendations so quickly is testament to the success of our ambition to support patient access to clinically and cost effective treatments as early as possible,” said Knight. “Until now there have been no targeted treatments for people with this type of breast cancer.

“Abemaciclib with hormone therapy represents a significant improvement in how it is treated because being able to have a targeted treatment earlier after surgery will increase the chance of curing the disease and reduce the likelihood of developing incurable advanced disease.”

Abemaciclib works by targeting and inhibiting proteins in cancer cells which allow the cancer to divide and grow. It normally costs £2,950 for a packet of 56 150mg-tablets, but the manufacturer, Eli Lilly, has agreed an undisclosed discounted price for NHS England.

“Thanks in part to this latest deal struck by NHS England, NHS patients will be able to access another new targeted drug for a common and aggressive form of breast cancer,” said Prof Peter Johnson, the cancer director of NHS England.

“Abemaciclib, when used alongside a hormone therapy, offers a new, doubly targeted, treatment option, helping to increase the chances of beating the cancer for good, as well as meeting the NHS’s commitment to delivering improved cancer care under our long-term plan.”

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