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Katelyn’s Quest to Get More People Vaccinated Against COVID

Rather than let long-lasting COVID symptoms hold her back, Katelyn has pushed herself beyond her comfort zone.

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Every morning when she wakes up, Katelyn wonders if she’ll be able to breathe and speak normally. Back when she was an active soccer player and marching band leader in high school, she never imagined her college years would be like this. But getting COVID during her freshman year changed everything. While her symptoms were light at first — she described only having sniffles — they became much worse within a few months. By the time she returned to campus for the spring semester, she says1, “My whole body just felt wrong.”

Now a 20-year-old sophomore studying computer science at a college in Missouri, Katelyn is one of an estimated 14 to 30 percent of COVID survivors who develop new or lingering symptoms after their recovery from COVID. Sometimes known as long-haulers, they can experience a wide range of symptoms, from fatigue to pain to brain fog, usually starting four or more weeks after first becoming ill. But different people can experience very different symptoms, and there is still so much that we do not know about COVID’s long-term impact.

The risk for long-term symptoms from COVID is about twice as high for unvaccinated people compared to vaccinated people.

As a high school student, Katelyn would often be on her feet for hours, chasing after kids as a volunteer STEM camp counselor at the Children’s Museum of Illinois, near where she lived. In addition to playing soccer, she often went rock climbing, and easily walked 12,000 steps every day. An avid musician, she played piano and percussion and loved singing.

Remembering to finish an assignment for school was something Katelyn did without much effort. And she was eager to start college, especially because all her hobbies had felt like “training” for four years of higher education.

But long COVID has made almost everything more difficult — even just getting up in the morning. Now, she can’t get moving without taking a hot shower to loosen up her joints or sit through classes without taking anti-inflammatory medications. She manages to walk 4,000 steps on “a good day,” and rock-climbing trails that used to be easy now trip her up. These new challenges are forcing her to throw out all preconceived notions of how college would play out.

“I expected that I’d be perfectly capable of getting around campus, remembering everything I needed to in order to succeed.”

Music has also been back-burnered because joint pain interferes with playing instruments, and her “wrecked” lung capacity, as she describes it, makes singing harder. Coding assignments for her computer science classes and typing out emails can be painful, because her joints won’t stretch properly. She often forgets her professors’ instructions a few minutes after hearing them, and social media posts from her past seem unfamiliar.

“COVID is not something to mess with. I realize that now.”

But she didn’t always see it that way. Before getting sick, she says she “more or less thought COVID was a joke” for someone her age and in relatively good health. She chose not to get vaccinated, even though she had asthma. She assumed that being young would protect her and thought that more vulnerable people would need the vaccines more than she would.

“Boy, was I wrong,” she says. “I should have taken that opportunity when I had the chance.”

Anyone ages 5 and older living in the U.S. can get vaccinated for free, regardless of health insurance or immigration status. Getting vaccinated is simple — and it’s the best way to help us get to a new normal.

Over time and with physical therapy, Katelyn has been moving forward. She’s now vaccinated and boosted. She is a teaching assistant for first-year computer science students and has picked up freelance web development work. One of her new passions is volunteering with an organization for women in tech. “I’m honestly really proud of myself for being able to balance all of this in spite of the challenges that I’m facing every day,” she says.

Researching the technology behind vaccines and sharing her knowledge with others has also been gratifying. It’s okay to be skeptical — the enormity of the pandemic and vaccinations can seem overwhelming — but the vaccines have proven to be safe and effective. For Katelyn, empowering people who might be hesitant to get accurate information about vaccines makes her feel like she’s helping spread awareness in a powerful way.

More than anything, Katelyn says she hopes that people will listen to long-haulers like her, so they can avoid experiencing what she’s had to endure.

“I don’t want other people to make the same mistake I did. Even if they only have a small chance of developing symptoms that are severe as mine, it’s not worth the risk.”

“If you’re not vaccinated, it’s something that's really easy that we can all do.”

Find vaccines near you at Learn how to build vaccine confidence in your community here.

1Katelyn’s testimonial and two others featuring Rob and Isaiah, were researched and produced by Resolve to Save Lives, as part of the Voices of Long COVID initiative.

For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from the CDCWHO and local public health departments.