Overcoming vaccine hesitancy: ‘I was concerned the trials skipped safety protocols’

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  • Loobna Kamroodien was concerned that the Covid vaccine trials had skipped safety protocols.
  • But she equipped herself with knowledge and weighed up the risks and benefits of vaccination, and got vaccinated.
  • She doesn't believe people should be forced to get vaccinated; instead, they should educate themselves and make an informed decision.

“I know that testing and development of vaccines, from the beginning to the end, generally take years to complete – so I was concerned that they had rushed to roll out the Covid vaccines and skipped safety protocols,” Loobna Kamroodien (31) told Health24.

Vaccine hesitancy has proven to be one of the most challenging hurdles in ending the Covid pandemic, but Loobna felt that being under lockdown had become draining. She had also seen her loved ones battle with infection and even lost a family member to Covid-19.

“I had a close uncle that was critically ill in hospital with Covid. We were hanging by a thread, worrying about him,” Loobna said during the interview. Two weeks later, her uncle succumbed to the disease and died. 

“I also have an aunt who’s a cancer survivor, and she, too, contracted Covid,” said Loobna.

Having cancer can make one more likely to get severely ill from Covid, but Loobna believes that being fully vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech jab saved her aunt.

“She survived cancer – twice – as well as a throat operation, post-op infections, and her Covid infection. But her son (my cousin) has been in hospital for more than a month due to Covid,” said Loobna.

'It's very scary'

“He’s sedated," she added. "In the first week, he was just struggling to breathe. He had his phone with him and I could message him. By week two, he was put on a ventilator. He opened his eyes after three weeks and we began to feel a bit hopeful. 

“And doctors thought about weaning him off the oxygen, but then he picked up another non-Covid infection, so he was put back under full sedation. It’s very scary,” she said.

To help her process her emotions and cope with her loved ones being sick, she turned to writing poetry. Her latest poem, she said, is a tribute to her uncle and cousin.

By Loobna Kamroodien

Getting educated

Loobna didn’t want her vaccine hesitancy to be a real issue that may have contributed to prolonging the pandemic and getting Covid under control, so she decided to increase her knowledge and overcome any misinformation about the vaccines.  

This started with communicating with her sister, who is a medical doctor and had already taken the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as part of South Africa’s Sisonke trial.

“I also know of a few other doctors that had taken it, and I checked in with them about any side effects they had so that I was aware of what to expect if I also took it,” she said.

She also joined a webinar with a panel of international doctors who ended up covering her biggest concern: the accelerated vaccine clinical trials. 

“And what they said made sense to me,” said Loobna. “The key takeaway in that webinar was that while vaccines do take a lot longer to roll out, this is also the first time where all scientists were concentrating on it because it’s affecting the world. 

“Usually with other vaccines, it’s specific to an area, for example, and it’s not scientists around the world working on that vaccine, whereas in this case, everyone was dedicated. And that gave me peace of mind. I realised you can’t compare it to other vaccine rollouts,” she said.

Image: Supplied

Weighing up the risks against the benefits

There was another aspect that helped Loobna to decide whether to get vaccinated: weighing up the risks against the benefits of the vaccine.

“There are risks, such as the risk of blood clots [that have been linked to the J&J and AstraZeneca vaccines], but I saw that it was really small. And I thought I’m willing to take that risk of a rare side effect, rather than having to catch Covid,” she said.

A recent analysis of 29 million people in England found that the chances of developing blood clots after Covid infection far outweighed the risks of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines. 

“I saw that the risk of side effects from taking the vaccine was much lower than the risk of getting Covid – and that’s what pushed me into getting the vaccine,” added Loobna.

Getting vaccinated

Loobna received the J&J vaccine. The injection itself was not sore, she said, but her arm immediately felt lame and a bit sore – one of the common, non-serious side effects of the Covid vaccine.

“I also felt slightly lightheaded, but then they observed me during the usual 15 minute-waiting period where they ensure you’re okay. I sat there, ate something, and felt a little better. My arm was in pain for quite a few days, and I felt lethargic and tired, but I was lucky not to experience any other side effects,” she said.

Long-term safety concerns

Loobna still has some concerns around potential long-term side effects of Covid vaccination. She added: “But if I look at how this world has changed since Covid, I would much rather live in a world where we do not have to live in-between this pandemic and be vaccinated.”

READ | Covid vaccines were developed quickly: How do we know they won't cause any long-term health effects?

Her father, who’s in his 70s and vaccinated, also has cancer, and she’s witnessed how the pandemic has posed a threat to the level of treatment and care cancer patients receive. 

“He was supposed to start chemotherapy, but his treatment was delayed – not because of his cancer – but because of the third wave. So if he doesn’t get his treatment, it could very well be because doctors are unable to prioritise cancer patients or worried that those patients will catch Covid when they go for chemotherapy,” she said.

People shouldn't be forced

Loobna does not believe people should be forced to get vaccinated against Covid. She advises people who are on the fence about taking the vaccine to educate themselves by consulting a variety of sources.

“I literally equipped myself with knowledge. So I’d advise people to read about people that had good experiences; read about people that had bad experiences; read about people’s reasons for why they want to take it, and why they don’t want to take it. And then look at your own situation, and based on that, decide what’s best for you.

"That’s going to give you peace of mind and help you make an informed decision of whether to get the vaccine,” she said.

*For more Covid-19 research, science and news, click here. You can also sign up for our Daily Dose newsletter here.

READ | How years of vaccine groundwork allowed the Covid-19 jabs to be developed in under a year

READ | Doctor on overcoming Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy: ‘We just don’t know who will succumb to this virus’

READ | Living with long Covid: People tell the stories of the debilitating symptoms left in the virus' wake

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