Claudia Soria, Wiltshire, UK
In January 2020, final year law student Claudia Soria, 22, travelled to Australia to spend a semester abroad. Her hopes of spending months immersed in a new country and culture came to an abrupt halt when the pandemic struck.
I was alone on the other side of the world when the lockdown started. I only did a week and a half of classes before everything moved online.
I was alone and didn’t know what to do – should I stay in Australia and wait for things to get better or come back home?
I decided to come back to the UK but I couldn’t go back to my own home because we live on the farm where my dad works and his employer was worried I might bring the virus with me.
So I was alone again.
It was hard because I was doing my semester online from home. I had to wake up at three or four o’clock in the morning to do my lectures. I had to sit exams. It was such a struggle to sleep during the day.
I’ll admit I was sceptical about the vaccine at first because it was new and people didn’t know if it would have any bad side effects, but then I thought about it: I had less of a chance of getting seriously ill from the vaccine than I did the virus.
To me, the vaccine is like the lottery but whatever happens, it will be better than the virus.
I still socially distance as much as I can but I’m a bit more relaxed now. I’ve started dancing lessons, but I still won’t go clubbing with my friends. I’m currently studying to become a qualified solicitor, and I’m going for classes, socially distanced and masked. My graduation is next month, which is exciting because I get to see friends including some who travelled back home abroad during the pandemic.
Without the vaccine, my graduation would not be happening, nor would I be able to move on with my life.
Maryam Ahmed, London, UK
Classified by the government as ‘extremely vulnerable’ because of a medical condition, at the start of the pandemic Maryam Ahmed, 18, was told to shield and not to leave her home. Now she is about to start university, excited for the next chapter in her life.
When the first lockdown started, I was doing my A-levels but I didn’t think much of it because I saw it as a breather – a break from school.
But then I received a letter from the government telling me to shield, to not to leave the house because I was ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’. Because I’m severely asthmatic, I was told not to step out of my house at all – not even to put the bins out – I was even told not to go into my garden. I was literally trapped indoors until the next school year.
It was when I started Year 13 a year ago that it hit me how much school we had missed. I actually counted the number of weeks we had had missed – everything was all over the place. We missed practical lessons that we needed for our mock exams in January. The lockdowns added the pressure and stress that if our real exams were cancelled – as they were – these mocks would be used for our grades.
Then in November, I caught Covid-19. Luckily, my asthma and symptoms weren’t severe but it was still painful. For a few months, it felt like I was having heart palpitations whenever I took a few steps.
On top of that, my school didn’t want me to come back after the second lockdown until I had been vaccinated, but I couldn’t afford to miss more school.
I tried to get the doctor to arrange the vaccine but because I have a history of anaphylaxis, I was advised at first not to get the Pfizer vaccine. I couldn’t get the AstraZeneca vaccine either because it hadn’t been approved for under-18s. I was finally vaccinated with Pfizer in June and it was such a relief.
The vaccine is honestly the best thing that could have happened. Without it, I would be too scared to attend any face-to-face classes at university – I don’t know if I would be attending university at all.
Next month I’m starting at Imperial College London to study Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering. The vaccine is letting me move on with my life and the more people that get it, the quicker we all can move on.
James Flanders, Surrey, UK
A final year geography student, James Flanders, 22, completed his undergraduate degree and a masters during the pandemic. But the experience took a toll on his mental health. The vaccine has helped him to turn a corner, he says.
I was writing the conclusion to my dissertation the week before the lockdown, trying to finish it off so I could head home. I knew a lockdown was on its way – I used to live in Hong Kong and knew that the situation didn’t look good in the Far East.
I literally moved out of my uni house in Newcastle just before lockdown. And although I still had all my exams to do, it wasn’t too bad. The weather was nice and it was like a well-deserved break towards the end of my degree.
And then I think the novelty wore off. When there was an easing of lockdown rules, there was a belief that by the end of the summer, the pandemic would have disappeared.
But I knew that things were going to get worse so I was quite hesitant to go out last summer, and I think it was this that caused me to cut myself off from everything in self-imposed isolation.
I’ve always struggled with my mental health, but I’ve never had to medicate or seek professional help for it until now. Before Covid-19, I got on with it because I kept busy, whereas during the pandemic everything stopped and it gave me time to overthink and overthink and overthink.
I had just started my masters when cases started to go up again. Some days I was okay and others, I would be having anxiety attacks for 24 hours straight. It was exhausting.
I got medication and saw a therapist which helped me cope when we went into our second lockdown.
The vaccine was it for me – I felt so chuffed. I completely trust the science. For me, the incentive for the vaccine was getting back to normal life. And that to me basically means not having to follow rules and regulations, so I don’t mask up anymore.
The vaccine has definitely helped me be in a better headspace. The last time I saw my therapist was just before I had the vaccine – and I haven’t felt the need to talk to them since.
It’s great because I was able to get a job as a reporter and I wouldn’t have felt safe enough to do so without my vaccine.
I just hope that people start getting over the pandemic and realise that we have to learn to live with it. The way forward really is to make sure that as many people globally are vaccinated.
Gloria von Michel, London, UK
Having just graduated with a psychology degree in London, Gloria von Michel, 24, from Ibiza, lost the job she hadn’t even had a chance to start when the UK went into lockdown. And in the middle of the pandemic, her boyfriend was diagnosed with a brain tumour, which meant shielding for them both.
I was disappointed to lose my job at a private clinic but I was fine. My boyfriend had moved in with my flatmate and we just got on with it – I mean we’re all a bit introverted, so staying at home wasn’t something we minded. I had also decided to apply for a masters in Health Psychology at King’s College London so I had that to look forward to after the summer. The pandemic was inconvenient, but we were all healthy.
But early this year, my boyfriend had a seizure and was taken to hospital. I had no idea what was happening because I wasn’t allowed in with him. The doctors discovered he had a brain tumour.
I got a phone call from him. He was just about to go in to surgery and a doctor had handed him some forms to sign and said that he might die. And being drugged up, what he heard was, ‘I’m going to die’.
My boyfriend called me to say goodbye. And it is the worst phone call I have ever received. To think a loved one is going to die and not be able to see them and comfort them or even do anything to help them.
Luckily, I have a doctor friend who reassured me that if he was in that much danger, I would be allowed to see him. But it really weighed on me, hearing him over the phone saying that he was never going to see me again.
When he left hospital, we went straight to him mum’s house in Cheshire to shield. And it was hard and scary because he needed chemotherapy, so we were both given the vaccines so that he could start.
Vaccines are so important to me. My mother is very anti-vax so as a child I never received any of my vaccinations. When I moved here for university a few years ago, I got all of my jabs.
It’s like with public toilets – most of us give them a bit of a wipe or hover when we use them. We don’t just sit down and hope for the best. It might not be 100 per cent fool-proof, but it offers some protection. The vaccine is the same.
I really hope that my anti-vax family in Spain get vaccinated so that I can take my boyfriend home to meet them. I hope that everyone gets vaccinated so that immune-suppressed people can have that extra added safety on top of their own vaccinations.
We take for granted how just walking out of our front door won’t kill us. But for some, that is literally the case.