As lockdown restrictions ease, directors of Public Health in Cheshire and Merseyside are relaunching a campaign to ‘Spread the Facts’ about how young people can play their part in stopping the spread of COVID-19.
With the vaccine rollout in England now opened up to those aged 30 and over, young frontline health workers have joined forces to make the facts clearer for young people and urge them to both get the vaccine when their turn comes and get tested regularly, even if they have no symptoms.
As part of the initiative, which is a collaboration between the NHS and local councils in Cheshire and Merseyside, ‘long Covid’ sufferer Sally McCreith, Head of Medical Education at Liverpool University Hospitals, has shared her own personal experience of long Covid and the devastating impact it continues to have on her life.
The 31-year-old from Liverpool, contracted COVID-19 in September 2020. Despite suffering from no underlying health conditions prior to contracting the virus, she is still experiencing debilitating symptoms eight months on and wants to warn people about the impact the virus can have on lives.
She said: “Covid was one of the worst experiences of my life, but what came next was even worse. The virus started with a really horrendous headache, then the tiredness and exhaustion kicked in and I literally couldn’t get out of bed. My husband and I both had a really chesty cough – the noise was terrible, it sounded like our lungs were crackling and I had a constant burning sensation in my chest. We also both completely lost our sense of smell.
“As we started to recover, my husband’s sense of smell came back, but when mine started to return, it wasn’t right. I had developed parosmia, which meant all smells were horribly distorted. I can constantly smell a combination of rotten meat with an underlying chemical smell to it.
“As a result my taste is affected. I used to be a real foodie, but now eating is so difficult, as everything has this vile smell to it. I’ve lost two stone in weight since September, as I have to be very restrictive in what I can eat to avoid being nauseous.
“Even toothpaste is awful, it’s like brushing my mouth with ashes and when I get in the shower I feel like I’m washing with rotten meat. I never feel clean and have developed a real paranoia. I have to remind myself that nobody can smell what I can smell. My husband, family and friends couldn’t have been more supportive, but it has had a major impact on my mental health.
“I’ve also suffered brain fog, which is horrendous. I constantly lose my train of thought and my short term memory is completely gone. I’ll forget the word that I was going to say or worry I’ve left something on or unlocked.
“Most recently I’ve become really breathless. I can’t even carry the washing up the stairs. I had an irregular ECG and an x-ray, which indicates there might be an issue with my heart. I’m still waiting for the results, but I’ve heard it could be down to scar tissue and serious vascular problems, so it’s extremely worrying that I’m now potentially facing that too.
“I never thought this could happen to me, but my whole life has been turned upside down. I want to remind people to be careful and protect themselves. All my friends are racing to get the vaccine after seeing the impact COVID-19 has had on me. It’s the right thing to do, it’s the only way we’re going to get back to some resemblance of normality and it will stop anyone having to go through what I am continuing to have to deal with daily”.
Dr Oliver Dray, a 26-year-old doctor at Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said there are a growing number of younger people who are living with the long-term impact of contracting the virus: “COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate and we need to remember that younger people are not immune. It is not just about surviving, it’s what comes with surviving as well and the potential consequences of that. COVID-19 is a complex disease that can cause irreversible damage.
“We are now experiencing a positive drop in cases due to the vaccine and Government restrictions. I know that, for many of us, it can feel like the victory is done, but it is by no means done. Now is not the time to be complacent.
“I understand we are all frustrated and tired of restrictions, but we need to maintain guidelines and when it is your turn, get vaccinated. It is working and it is the only way we can protect each other and get through this together.”
Matt Ashton, Director of Public Health for Liverpool and lead Director for Communications and Marketing in Cheshire & Merseyside, added: “Lockdown restrictions and the safety measures in place to help stop the spread of the virus have undoubtedly impacted the younger generations. Through our ‘Spread the Facts’ campaign, we are speaking directly to young people to let them know that we recognise the sacrifices they have made, and that they are instrumental in the next phase of fighting against the virus.
“Science shows us that, alongside wearing a mask, hand washing and social distancing, our successful vaccination programme is the best way to get back to doing the things we love, and as we begin to call the younger generations forward to receive their vaccine, we want to ensure they understand the real facts and reasons behind why it is so important.
“I am extremely grateful to the NHS workers who have come forward to share their stories and, of course, all those who continue to work tirelessly in the fight against COVID-19. We’re almost there, and we’re hoping this campaign helps to remind people of that.”
The ‘Spread the Facts’ campaign features young people working across the healthcare community in Cheshire and Merseyside. NHS workers, including young doctors, nurses and support workers, share their experiences of working throughout the pandemic.
The real life health care heroes impart facts and recommend simple behaviours that will cut the spread of the virus and stop the spread of misinformation among young people. www.spreadthefacts.co.uk holds the facts and signposts to other official sites for further reading.
The COVID-19 vaccine is now available to anyone aged 30 or over, or if their 30th birthday falls before 1st July. People in Cheshire and Merseyside are also encouraged to take part in regular COVID-19 testing, and home testing kits can be ordered at: www.gov.uk/get-coronavirus-test.