Leading article

Onus on everyone to take up vaccine offer

FOR any young person still sceptical about the need for vaccination, our interview with Co Down nurse Christina Watters should be all the incentive they need.

The 27-year-old, who worked on the frontline at the outbreak of the pandemic last year, was left virtually housebound for months with 'long Covid' symptoms after contracting the virus herself.

She described in alarming details the impact of crippling muscle pains and chronic fatigue on her previously active life.

Christina is unfortunately not alone in suffering such debilitating symptoms, with around 21,000 people in Northern Ireland thought to be living with long Covid.

For a young person, this has the potential to cause huge disruption to university studies, employment opportunities or family life.

The rise in intensive care admissions in recent weeks also demonstrates the very real risk to life that Covid still poses.

Vaccination is the greatest weapon against the virus, yet it remains the case that many young people are seemingly reluctant to come forward.

Authorities are to be commended for attempts to make jabs more accessible, including pop-up clinics in supermarkets and on university campuses.

However, with the health service again being placed under huge strain by Covid patients - leading some cancer surgeries to be cancelled - there is room more creative thinking.

Health minister Robin Swann this week suggested making vaccination a condition for a high street shopping voucher scheme.

This may have been rejected by executive colleagues, but is increasingly the case that vaccines are becoming a passport to enjoy many aspects of life we once took for granted.

Revellers attending two upcoming music events in Belfast will be expected to show proof of Covid antibodies, vaccination or a negative test.

US authorities have sought to entice people to vaccination centres with the offer of everything from childcare and scholarships to lottery tickets and free beer.

For some, apathy will not be the issue. Misinformation remains a major problem and social media companies must take more responsibility for online claims made without any basis in fact.

When hospitals were overwhelmed with Covid patients last year, only strict lockdown measures avoided catastrophe.

This time there is a responsibility on everyone to take up the offer of safe and effective vaccines to protect both themselves and others.

They need only to listen to Christine Watters' own appeal: "I wouldn't want anyone to experience what we have in the past year. You wouldn't wish it on your worst enemy."

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