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I have had Covid, but I can wait for a vaccine. So why have our most vulnerable been exposed to such unnecessary risk?

Last month, reporter Callum Parke lost his grandmother to Covid-19 and he is now calling for care homes to be prioritised in the fight against the virus.

On January 21, I was given the same chilling feeling which over three million of us have regrettably received in recent months.

A routine coronavirus test I had completed on the previous Sunday, taken as part of my involvement in football, came back positive.

I saw the result minutes after I had visited my elderly grandparents, who are part of our support bubble.

Callum Parke with his nanny and mum
Callum Parke with his nanny and mum

Fortunately, neither I nor my household have shown symptoms in the week that followed. I stayed self-contained in three rooms of our house (my bedroom, our shared spare room-turned-office, and bathroom), and I know that I had it easy compared to thousands of others who are not blessed with space.

It is one of the rare times that, as a university student, I was pleased to have exams and other work to occupy myself with.

My family – although not essential workers and mostly working from home – also had to self-isolate with me for a week.

Wednesday, January 27 was our final day of self-isolation, and I have since been doing as much housework as I can to try and apologise for disrupting their non-existent plans.

My first day of freedom, however, was tinged with sadness.

On the morning of Thursday, January 28, I read a eulogy at my grandmother’s funeral. She sadly died on January 13, aged 68 – four days after contracting Covid – having been in a care home for 10 months with advanced dementia and aphasia.

She was the life of the party, gave me many of her best traits and I shall miss her dearly. I am sure that, wherever she is, she has already sourced a good bottle of red wine.

In the more than two weeks since her passing, it has been heartening to hear that vaccines have been rolled out in care homes and the most vulnerable in our society are being protected.

It is a relief too that my other elderly relatives have received their first doses of the vaccine, including my paternal grandmother who also suffers from advanced dementia.

These steps are of course brilliant news, with the vaccine programme giving hope to our society. But my nanny’s death is part of a clear signal that more still needs to be done to protect even the most vulnerable in our society.

While the government’s push for impressive figures is understandable, it has left some of our most vulnerable behind, and still at risk.

My nanny was one of 1,260 care home residents to die in the week up to January 17: a 46 per cent rise on the week before and the highest level seen since mid-May.

That stat comes as it was estimated last week that there were over 600 suspected care home outbreaks, according to the Guardian.

In Norfolk, there were 154 suspected outbreaks across 350 care homes as of January 19.

This has led to confusion among GPs as to whether they can enter homes with Covid-positive residents. In my nanny’s care home, 15 were diagnosed on the same day and she was one of four to pass away on the same day.

My grandad has raised the sad point that had my nanny still been living at home, she could have received a vaccine at her local GP, and he could have been given one as her carer.

Instead, those in care homes have been left to fend for themselves in the case of suspected outbreaks, while one of our own MPs received a left-over shot.

It is perhaps ironic that my nanny was a career nurse, dedicated to helping people, not least her own family.

She would have been as angry as anyone about the current crisis facing the NHS, and would have been livid that over 850 health and social care workers have died of Covid-19 since March, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Even now, some care home staff are still not vaccinated, although the government states that all residents have been.

The ramping up of the vaccination programme has been impressive, the government appearing resolute in its drive to vaccinate 15 million people by mid-February.

But my nanny’s death – and that of 1,259 other care home residents in the same week – suggests vulnerable people have been exposed to unnecessary risk throughout, and that there has been a focus on quantity rather than quality.

As a student, I acknowledge and respect the reasoning behind my place at the back of the vaccination queue.

I am young and (supposedly) fit, and like many of my friends who have also tested positive fortunately got through isolation problem-free.

That is not to say the pandemic has not taken a toll on students, like it has on us all. Rising mental health issues and fears about career prospects in a struggling economy have been accompanied by vitriol from natives of cities in which we study, being labelled as architects of rising cases in the cities we call our second homes.

But we know that we have easier than most, and as such will happily wait until our turn comes.

That is what makes the government’s desire for impressive figures all the more concerning. As much as I found it annoying to have Covid, quite frankly I don’t matter.

People in the same situation as my Nanny, and indeed their families, do. We should not be striving to achieve a critical mass if those left out of said mass are the people most at risk.

If it means that my friends, course mates and I have to wait a little longer for our next night out, so that less people have to miss out on memories with loved ones, then I will wait until the cows come home.

Nothing will bring my Nanny back, and there may not have been much that could. But more should be done avoid others going through the same unnecessarily.

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