When a national lockdown was implemented in the UK in response to the coronavirus pandemic, those deemed to be particularly vulnerable to the virus due to age or pre-existing health conditions were told to “shield”. Shielders were told to remain indoors for at least twelve weeks, and as such were given priority access to delivery slots for online grocery shopping and pharmaceuticals. They were also excused from work on medical grounds if their job could not be conducted from the home, and eventually would also be among the top priorities for receiving the recently developed vaccination. All of this ensured that those most likely to face the very worst consequences of the virus were the most protected from it, and has undoubtedly been essential to the survival of millions.
Unfortunately, with no common consensus as to the definition of vulnerable, how to compile a list of vulnerable people, or even as to who was responsible for implementing the shielding scheme, thousands of vulnerable individuals across the UK were not included. A friend of mine who literally has one functional lung was missed from that list. I was also one of those missed people.
As someone with asthma which requires to use of steroid-based medication to keep me breathing, I should be on that shielding list according to gov.uk information. Despite this, I have yet to receive that all-important letter.
Those of us missed from the shielding list almost immediately felt the consequences. With people panic-booking delivery slots for their online shopping, delivery slots became completely unavailable for weeks on end unless you had priority as assigned by a shielding letter. If we wanted to eat, we had to go out to the shops.
Once offices began to re-open, those of us who couldn’t complete every last aspect of their job from home were made to return to communal working unless we had a shielding letter. While in my case, my employer were as lenient as they could reasonably be on this, without that shielding letter it was still additional exposure to the virus that I would rather not have had.
More recently, and perhaps most painfully, I’m not able to access the coronavirus vaccine until well over half the population has been vaccinated. This means I need to go out shopping and to work without that all-important vaccination to protect me.
To add insult to injury are all the people, including powerful politicians, stating that the vulnerable just need to stay home and let the rest of the world go back to normal. Not only is this wantonly ignorant of how infections spread, and ableist as disabled people’s lives are not expendable just to improve your existence, but this is impossible when a large chunk of that vulnerable population are denied the protection they need in order to stay at home.
This pandemic has undeniably been hard on everyone, and all vulnerable people, shielding or not, have been hit particularly hard. Those on the shielding list have faced their fair share of issues too, as I’ve gleaned from talking to them, and this post is not written to demerit these experiences. However, for those of us who have been forgotten, this past year has been especially degrading, demoralising, and dehumanising. I, for one, will never forget being forgotten.