This post is more of a personal post, but there are a lot of interesting things to share about this topic, so I hope you will bear with me.
Last Thursday, the 8th of July, I got a positive PCR test for having contracted COVID. This is after having had both jabs of the vaccine.
My first vaccination was on the 13th of April and my second jab was on the 9thth of June, so I was fully vaccinated, and have maximum protection against the virus. It was the AstraZeneca vaccine.
I had also caught COVID in April of 2020, so I've had it twice now, once with, and once without the vaccine.
There are many stark differences in my experience. Here are a few.
Course of the illness
When I caught the virus in April last year it started with a mild persistent cough, but I didn't really take it seriously until nine days later. The cough had almost gone, and then after quite a long cycle on that day I felt very unwell later that night. It was another nine days before I tried to get back to work, and I had an experience of fatigue and occasional heart palpitations for many months after that.
This time I woke up with what felt like a bad head cold on the Thursday morning. I'd started to feel it coming on the night before. I discounted that it could be COVID, but my wife suggested I do a lateral flow test. That test came up positive, and that led me to get a PCR test, also positive. I felt under the weather, like a really really bad cold. I felt very tired, and after seven days most of the symptoms had gone, and after five days lateral flow tests were showing up negative.
Severity of symptoms
The first time around I had some concern that I might be having a heart attack. My breathing because inefficient, and I had an elevated heart rate, up to 130 BPM, for most of one day. I had a feeling of a deep weight settling into my chest. I didn't know what was happening. Walking up stairs left me breathless.
This time around I didn't have any heart palpitations, or elevated heart rate. I did start to feel a small weight in my chest, but nothing at all on the order of what I had experienced last year. This time it felt like a really bad man flu.
The first time I caught COVID there were only PCR tests, and they were extremely limited. I had no access to testing. I had to call the COVID helpline, and in consultation with a doctor on the phone I was told it probably sounded like COVID, it probably was COVID. We were all still learning. I happened to meet Xand van Tulleken in a park near to my house a few weeks later, and he also gave a confirmation that my symptoms were COVID.
This time we had lateral flow tests at home. I could book a walk in PCR test for a few hours after my positive lateral flow test, and I had the lab results back later that day, in under 12 hours. I was on the Test and Track system, and over the course of the last six days have had four phone calls from that system - mainly reminders of my legal obligation to isolate.
The first time I caught covid the government was in Chaos. The NHS was under huge pressure. We were still clapping for the carers, mostly in disgust at how badly they were being treated. The policy seemed to be do anything to prevent the NHS from collapsing, but don't think beyond that. We had no vaccine, no tests, no PPE, no well understood effective treatments.
This time we are emerging into a state of self-inflicted chaos, and mixed messages. There is so much more infrastructural support, but the policy seems to be to allow the population to gain herd immunity through infection, rather than vaccination. We have all of these tools that we didn't have last time. We are so much better equipped on all fronts, other than on the policy front.
How I caught it
On both occasions, then and now, I have no idea how I caught it. I was careful then, I've been careful now. An invisible pox, a lethal invisible hand, a reminder of how fragile we are, how our bodies are at the mercy of these mysterious environments that we inhabit.
There is fear now, there was fear then but they are very different beasts. Last year something like 20% of people going in to hospital were ending up in ICU, and half of those people were dying. I was told by the doctor that if my symptoms got worse over a three hour window I should call am ambulance and go to A&E. I was looking at the faces of my children, and as the virus took hold in my chest I really worried. What would the course of this be? Would it burn through me, would it leave my family fatherless. My own father died when I was 13. I knew the pain of that, I didn't want that for my children, I didn't want to be robbed of their growing. I was deeply deeply afraid. In the end I didn't need to make that call. I plateaued, a few days later I started to get slightly better. But still, what would the long term effects be? There was a lot of fear. There was so much unknown.
This time, before I caught COVID again, I had been afraid too, but afraid from the policy the government had taken. This policy of allowing the virus to run rampant (as I write this 43 thousand new cases have been reported, we are only a few days away from exceeding the high point of 58 thousand reported in January).
I'm afraid of three things in this order.
I'm afraid of vaccine escape. What we are doing is the best possible experiment to create an environment for the virus to mutate to a version that is vaccine resistant.
I'm afraid of another lockdown. They have taken such a toll. They have taken a toll on me, my family, my friends. It would be so pointless, and so damaging, it worries me.
I was afraid of catching COVID again. Though I'm vaccinated, it only confers a higher resistance to infection. Encounter enough infected people, and you trade that advantage away.
Well the last of my fears has already come true.
I have to admit, I did feel like I had a super power, as I now no longer needed to worry. What I have learned fast is that the vaccine is most effective at reducing severe symptoms and hospitalisations. It will not always prevent illness. I've had to isolate for 10 days. I've missed some days of work. It is not a an outcome without economic or health damage. And yet we are on track to infect over two million people this summer.
I tweeted about the fact that I'd contracted COVID post-vaccination. The simplest little tweet - https://twitter.com/IanMulvany/status/1413409870079008768?s=20
It kind of blew up, it got over 3.5K comments, and was viewed more than 1.7M times:
I noticed several different threads of conversations happening:
A lot of people sympathising, and hoping I would recover soon - thank you!
Quite a lot of surprise that I had gotten the virus after vaccination. I now know that developing symptoms after double vaccination is not as rare as I had hoped, but it was clear from the conversations on these threads that a lot of people had made the same assumptions as I had.
There was some really interesting back and forth about what the statistics means on numbers of people infected, hospitalised, or dying, after being double vaccinated. This data is reported on weekly by Public Health England, and is a fascinating view into how the disease is progressing in a population where vaccination rates are very high.
And of course, there were the very many anti-vaxxers. At one point the tweet even made it into a cohort of MAGA supporting twitter accounts. There is so much mad information out there. I am glad to see that there was a lot of pushback on those threads, and it has to be remembered that Twitter is not the place for well balanced discussions, but just seeing so many accounts so convinced that vaccines are a conspiracy is truly worrying.
Our leaders and our social media systems have not done the best job in this last year.
In the end what I would take away from all of this is that we all need to get vaccinated, but even then it can only be one part of a strategy to get on top of this pandemic. Our public health measures need to be bolstered and supported. By this I mean suppression of transmission, support for isolation, and a lot of work on education communication around the vaccine and its benefits.
I have directly experienced the difference the vaccine can make in the experience of having COVID. Go now, go get your vaccine, but also, tread with caution out there in the UK, the next few weeks are going to be a wild and bumpy ride.