Intensive care units are filled with people battling Covid – up to 90% without booster jabs, and 60% completely unvaccinated. They have put their own lives at risk and piled pressure on our creaking NHS.
And with every passing day there seems to be another case of someone who had refused the vaccine falling seriously ill and talking publicly about their regrets.
Today, Boris Johnson condemned conspiracy theorists for spreading “complete mumbo-jumbo”, online, saying: “It’s time that I, government, call them out on what they’re doing, it is absolutely wrong.”
Here we get inside the mind of one man who refused the jab to discover what shaped his thinking – and how he feels believing the lies he read on social media took him close to death…
Andrew Pugh / SWNS)
The first days of the New Year have been long and frightening for Andrew Pugh, propped in his hospital bed, an oxygen mask on, no visitors for comfort.
As we talk by phone his breath is laboured, but most disturbing is how broken he sounds. Often emotional during his frequent pauses, the once happy-go-lucky binman, a dad-of-three, hands-on grandfather to five, sounds simply forlorn.
“I just feel so stupid,” he says.
“It was me being pigheaded, thinking it won’t get me, I’m fit and healthy, I might get a mild cold. It’s not like that.”
Andrew, only 52, is recovering from three weeks in intensive care at Worcestershire Royal Hospital with Covid-19 he caught in early December.
At one point he was on 85% oxygen and his partner was told he had a 50-50 chance of survival.
Andrew Pugh / SWNS)
As well as his breathlessness, the knowledge he will need months to recuperate, the terrifying memories of the hallucinations he experienced in ICU, the screams of the other patients, what crushes him most is one simple fact. If he had been vaccinated, he would likely have avoided it all.
Andrew, from Tunnel Hill, Worcester, chose to decline even his first jab, and now knows he could have died because of that decision.
Today, he reads messages from his children feeling wretched.
“They have been worried sick,” he says.
“When I see all the comments, about how much they miss me, I know I should have had the vaccine.
“Christmas Day was probably when it hit me the most. My partner could visit, for one hour. She cried, I was crying, I cry now on my own, because this isn’t even the start of it, I will have to do a lot to get where I used to be.
“I know now I should have had it, it could have been too late, I could have left all my family heartbroken.”
Limply, he adds: “I just love my partner, and all my family, and I could have left every one of them.”
It is easy to judge, but also hard to feel anything but sympathy for this devastated man, who admits the guilt the feels, not just towards his family, but staff here.
He has watched them working frantically for weeks. He knows at least one young woman, a mum in her thirties, has died of Covid while he has been here.
“One doctor asked me why I never had the jab, but they don’t judge,” he says.
“I do feel guilty, a lot. This ward is absolutely rammed. The ICU is the worst. Some of them were screaming they couldn’t breathe. I feel sorry for the nurses.”
So why didn’t Andrew have his vaccines?
With as many as 90% of patients currently in intensive care with Covid without a booster, and over 60% without any vaccination at all, the need to truly listen to their reasons, and to persuade them otherwise, is crucial.
Andrew Pugh / SWNS)
Andrew candidly wants to explain and tell others not to make the choice he did.
“I thought the vaccine was just made too quick,” is the first thing he says. ”It’s all scared me from the beginning.”
Although not a previous anti-vaxxer, he struggled to trust how this one could be safe, and was particularly disturbed by reports of blood clots connected extremely rarely to the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
“I have really big varicose veins in my legs, it really put me off,” he adds, admitting he did not seek reassurance from a doctor he would not be at particular risk.
He acknowledges the irony during our conversation, when a medic interrupts us to take his blood to check for blood clots, because of pains in his legs.
And then there was Facebook.
England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said this week “the great majority” of those in intensive care, unjabbed, are “not anti-vaxxers in the ordinary sense with some really weird ideas”, but had been influenced by misinformation online.
It was on social media Andrew sourced information about the vaccines. Or rather, found himself influenced by misinformation in posts from unknowns.
“Every time I try to look at things on Facebook you get people pump into your head conspiracy theories of this, or that. I was being sucked in,” he admits.
Andrew Pugh / SWNS)
“They say the ones having the jabs are dying, having heart attacks and blood clots. There was one about a footballer dying of a heart attack – but it was actually nothing to do with the Covid jab.”
He’s still reading them on his phone in hospital – but now with anger.
“There was one just half an hour ago about an 11-year-old girl dying. I think they call them trolls, they are trying to scare people.”
He adds: “Facebook should do more to monitor what is put on there, police it, they know it’s going up. What people are saying on there almost cost my life.”
But ultimately, he blames himself and concedes as time went on stubbornness set in.
His partner Alison Williams, a carer, regularly begged him to get jabbed. He insisted he’d be fine.
“I thought it was all out of proportion to start with. I didn’t know anyone in Worcester who had it really bad,” he says. “I thought I might get it, but never this bad.”
On December 4 he felt shivery at work, came home and took a lateral flow test.
Andrew Pugh / SWNS)
His quick-thinking sister brought around an oximeter and they were both surprised to see the percentage of oxygen in his blood at 84%. The normal blood oxygen saturation level is around 95–100%.
He came to hospital, was initially discharged, but was back a few days later.
Then his memory goes for two days.
Unbeknown to him, his partner was being told he had a 50-50 chance.
Later, he recalls his fear as he struggled for breath in ICU, but thankfully did not need a ventilator.
“I was hallucinating in there, I thought the doctors were trying to kill me, it was very frightening,” he admits.
“There were a couple of days just lying there when I thought, why bother?”
Now out of ICU, he has just come down from five litres of oxygen to one.
He can walk unaided the 30ft round trip to the bathroom, but immediately needs his oxygen mask. He fears debilitation and indignity to come.
“They say when you get home it will take months. I can’t run after the grandkids.They say the stairs will be hard, to sit and do them one at a time,” he says.
But as soon as he is able, he will get his first vaccine.
Other anti-vaxxers who changed their minds and got the jab
Last June the 60-year-old was taken to Bradford Royal Infirmary struggling to breathe.
The father-of-two said turning down his first jab was “the biggest mistake” of his life.
“I never really believed I would get Covid or it would make me so ill,” he said.
Bradford Royal Infirmary / SWNS)
The young mum was just 31 when she fell severely ill with Covid last February; then her father was taken to hospital with it for 11 days.
The anti-vaxxer from Didsbury, Manchester, said: “For me, it was all because it was new. It was a new vaccine and I was hearing a lot of conspiracy theories.”
The 32-year-old, from Kirkcaldy, Fife, was put on a ventilator and his wife was told he might not make it during nine days in ICU.
He admitted: “I didn’t think I would need the vaccine because I kept so well.”
The 27-year-old’s reason for refusing the jab was fear for her unborn child. She spent five weeks in a coma with Covid.
Her son Raphael was delivered safely in that time. From Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, she said: “The truth is we could have both died.”
Ffion had just turned 22 last summer when she was taken to Royal Glamorgan Hospital with breathing difficulties.
In a coma for five days, she needed to relearn to relearn how to walk, talk, and eat. She said: “I thought, being young with no health conditions, I was safe. Obviously, I was wrong.”
Gemma reportedly ‘died eight times’ in Warrington Hospital after contracting Covid and sepsis last August.
She said: “I was one of those people scared of having the jab. I heard it killed people.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.