The government announced on Tuesday that rules for self-isolation will be eased for people who have received both doses of a Covid vaccine, as it continues to push ahead with plans to lift all coronavirus restrictions in England later this month.
From 16 August, people who have been fully vaccinated will no longer have to self-isolate for the standard 10 days after coming into contact with a positive coronavirus case. They will be advised to take a Covid test, but it will not be mandatory. If they test positive they will have to isolate.
The travel industry is also prioritising fully-vaccinated travellers, with Heathrow providing fast-track lanes for such arrivals and the airline industry stepping up pressure on minister to open up quarantine-free travel to countries on the amber list.
Although this is welcome news for more than 33 million people (and counting) who have received both jabs - 45.4m people have had one dose so far - it comes as a blow to vulnerable people who are unable to get a Covid vaccine for various reasons – including those with allergies or those who are immuno-compromised and have been advised against taking it.
Julianne Ponan, 32, told The Independent she has been struggling to get her first jab, despite having been in the permitted age bracket for several weeks, because she has a number of food and medication allergies.
Ponan, whose allergies are so severe she has to carry an Epipen wherever she goes, said she tried to get a Covid vaccine several weeks ago at a local vaccine centre in Surrey. However, she was told she would have to get it in a hospital due to her severe allergies.
“Prior to my visit to the vaccine centre, I spoke to my GP who said it should be alright for me to go there for a jab, but when I got there they said absolutely not, that I had to go to a hospital to get the jab in a controlled environment,” she said.
“It’s been a few weeks now but I’ve still not been able to get it, which makes me quite worried. Everyone around me seems to have had it, but if they’re going to go out and not wear a mask, they can still carry the virus and pass it on to me.”
Ponan said the government’s plan to allow double-vaccinated people to skip self-isolation is “unfair” for people like her who are unable to access it despite wishing to, and would create bigger problems for vulnerable people like herself.
“I don’t think the new rules are right or fair. They [double-vaccinated people] can still carry Covid and be asymptomatic,” she said. “I can’t get the vaccine, that’s not my choice. It’s been taken away from me, and as a vulnerable person, if people aren’t even going to wear masks, it makes me feel really unsafe.”
People who have had the Covid vaccine can still contract the virus and spread it - although the risk is reduced - but the vaccine reduces the risk of more serious illness or death as a result of contracting it.
“It’s like there’s one rule for all, and the others will just have to suck it up. It’s not fair in any shape or form,” said Ponan.
Scientists and MPs have called for caution as the government pushes forward with its plans to reopen the country, following months of lockdown. It comes as health secretary Sajid Javid admitted that England was entering “uncharted territory” and infection figures could easily rise above 100,000 a day over the summer.
Green MP Caroline Lucas said: “Sajid Javid talks about ‘roadmap to freedom’. There’s no freedom for people who aren’t vaccinated or who are vulnerable – yet their health is being put at risk by reckless gamble to lift all safety measures. The ‘vaccine wall’ is only half-built – it’s too soon for all of this.”
Allowing infection rates to run rampant could run “the very real risk” of new variants developing, said Professor Richard Tedder from Imperial College.
Prof Tedder warned against using vaccines as a way to “free up our behaviour” and said new variants would “be even more resistant to vaccines and potentially more infectious”.
However, there is a general consensus that there is a need for Britons to learn how to live with Covid-19, as eradication of the virus appears unlikely in the short term.
Keith Neal, professor of the epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham, pointed out that in the US and some parts of Europe, fully-vaccinated people do not have to self-isolate unless they have symptoms of the disease.
“Vaccination is highly effective at stopping infection and in stopping transmission should people become infected, including the Delta variant,” he said.
“This does not mean that people do not need to be careful and I will continue to wear a mask.”
Ponan said she is “100 per cent on board” with learning to live with Covid-19, but added: “[The government] needs to make specific rules for people who want the vaccine but can’t get it for whatever reason.
“If they don’t want the vaccine, then fine, but those of us who haven’t got a choice should get an exemption rule or a letter, or something.”
The Independent has contacted the Department of Health and Social Care for comment.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies