Elizabeth Day: ‘Why catching Covid made me feel ashamed…’

I recently had the privilege of sitting next to Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert at an awards ceremony. She is, of course, the co-creator of the Covid-19 Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. I was able to thank her, in person, for devoting her life to the generous act of saving others.

It was an emotional moment for me because I had recently recovered from Covid. Had I not been double-jabbed with the vaccine Professor Gilbert and her colleagues had invented, I might not have been at that dinner. Contracting Covid made me realise, in a way nothing else quite had, what a horrendous virus it actually is.

Elizabeth Day
Dan Kennedy

That might sound stupid after more than a year and a half of national lockdowns, of global panic, of witnessing people I know fall ill, of watching the unimaginable scale of the tragedy unfold as so many families lost their loved ones despite the best efforts of overstretched NHS staff.

On one level, I knew how dangerous it was. But the more time that passed, and the more vaccines were injected into people’s arms, and the more restrictions were lifted by the government, I suppose I got a bit complacent.

Covid started to be talked about as nothing more than a heavy cold or a mild flu. Mask-wearing became optional – and even in places where it wasn’t (the London Underground) I noticed fewer and fewer people choosing to cover up. I started to relax a bit. I was still wearing my own mask, still sanitising my hands frequently and still observing social distancing where I could, but at the same time I thought, ‘Well, if I haven’t got it by now, maybe I’ll be OK…’

So when I got that positive line on the lateral flow test, I was genuinely shocked. By the time the PCR test confirmed it, I had been felled by an exhaustion so all-encompassing there seemed to be no other option than to go to bed. My head became fogged and I found it increasingly difficult to finish expressing a thought I’d started.

Reading emails or having to make any kind of decision left me utterly whacked. I had a stinging, itchy skin rash around my neck. I had gastrointestinal issues and vomiting. I was weepy and emotional and deeply ashamed. I’ve since spoken to many other people who have recently got Covid and they also had this sense of shame; as if we’d done something wrong and were too fearful to admit it.

It wasn’t like a cold or flu or any other illness I’d ever had. At least part of the awfulness of Covid is that we still don’t fully understand it. The unknown is scary when you’re experiencing it. Some of my symptoms were weird. Others, that I thought were par for the course, never appeared: I didn’t lose my sense of taste or smell or develop a cough.

But even though it was a relatively mild case, I found the effects lingered for weeks. It took me a fortnight to feel I could go for a short walk. I had another fortnight of tight-chestedness. It was four weeks before I felt myself again. After that, I experienced heart palpitations so worrying that I was monitored by a cardiologist. I’m still not back to my pre-Covid levels of physical fitness.

I know of several friends who have had Covid with barely any symptoms and I’m so grateful to the vaccine for shielding me from the worst effects of such a nasty illness. But, for many of us, getting even mild Covid is no joke.

This is still a situation where small individual actions can make a huge collective difference. So I, for one, will be getting a booster jab as soon as it’s offered to me. And I will remain forever thankful to Professor Gilbert and her team for making that possible.

This week I’m…


Christmas gifts via Atelier Rosemood (rosemood.co.uk): stunning personalised photo albums for your nearest and dearest.


My face each morning with CurrentBody Skin Face Sculptor (£35, currentbody.com). The best I’ve ever found.

Getting shirty

With this stylish oversized number, which comes courtesy of Mango (£49.99, mango.com).

READ MORE columns from Elizabeth Day here