As Omicron continues to spread in New Zealand, immunocompromised people are feeling unsafe and isolated as they take extra steps to protect themselves.

With no more lockdowns for the foreseeable future and a shift to a traffic light setting, immunocompromised people say the current restrictions don’t account for them.

Under the current Red light setting, the only restrictions for vaccinated New Zealanders is that gatherings have to remain at 100 people or below, and face masks are mandatory in indoor public spaces and on public transport.

Travel is allowed and schools can remain open.

Re: talked to immunocompromised people about how they’re feeling and what measures they’re putting in place to keep themselves safe.

‘We are unsafer than ever’

The last time Remy-Jean Simpson had a cold, they were sick for two months. 

Remy-Jean, who lives in the Bay of Plenty, says they have several conditions and disabilities, including fibromyalgia.

“My body exhausts easily when trying to fight infection,” the 17-year-old says.

Remy-Jean also lives with older family members who have underlying health conditions.

“Even though I’m vaccinated, if I get Covid, I will get very ill.There’s no way my body would be able to handle long Covid on top of all my other conditions.”

Remy-Jean is worried people will “move on” if a new variant were to emerge.

“More able-bodied people would choose to return to normal, meaning myself and other immunocompromised people will be left to the dogs. People genuinely just don’t think about us and when they do, they don’t care that our lives are at risk because they are tired of the pandemic.”

Remy is double vaccinated and eligible to get their booster in two months.

“I recently got K-95 masks that I wear whenever I’m in public and I would previously double mask, using a cotton and surgical mask.”

“I scan in and use hand sanitiser everywhere, social distance, and the only times I go out are to the doctors or hospital and other important unavoidable in-person meetings,” Remy-Jean says.

Prior to the traffic light system, Remy-Jean says they thought the Government was doing enough to keep everyone protected.

“With the traffic light system, there is essentially no difference between Red and Orange light for vaccinated people, allowing Covid to do whatever it wants.There were over 2,300 cases yesterday and still no lockdown,” they say.

“We are unsafer than ever.”

Remy says having Covid-19 isn’t an indication “someone has been ignoring restrictions” but they think the Government policy currently in place is an indicator that immunocompromised people aren’t cared for enough.

‘It’s one thing to mention us in a press conference, but it’s another to actually action something’

Taylen Heremaia says if she got Covid-19 before she was fully vaccinated, there would have been a very high chance she would end up in ICU. 

Taylen has endometriosis and nerve damage along with asthma. 

The 23-year old, who lives in Tamaki Mākaurau, says she has seen the long-term effects of Covid-19 on a family member. 

Her family member is young and healthy but after having Covid-19, she now has issues with her lungs and can’t walk for very long, Taylen says. 

“I don’t want to see that happen to me or more people I care about because it’s really scary.”

Taylen says she has been told by other family members that Covid-19 isn’t that bad and that she is overreacting, and that she would be fine if she got it. 

“That isn’t the case at all, just because I’m young it doesn’t mean I have a healthy body,” she says.

“It’s exhausting having to defend and advocate for myself that what I’m feeling is valid and that sick, disabled, less fortunate people exist and matter.”

Taylen and her flatmates, who are vaccinated and boosted, all have different health needs, so they take extra precautions in the flat.

“We wipe down our groceries, have hand sanitiser at the doors, use a separate wash basket for clothes we went out in to try to eliminate the possibility of bringing Covid home, scan if we go out and get tested if we don’t feel well.”

Taylen has also been saying no to social events. This has been hard, she says, “but it’s what is best to keep myself, friends, flat and family safe”. 

Taylen says she feels like immunocompromised people haven’t been heard or seen by the Government.

“We aren’t just an example of vulnerability. We're here, and we’re scared and we haven’t felt a lot of reassurance. 

“I hope there is more of a focus on vulnerable people and that [the Government] implements some actions.

“It’s one thing to mention us in a press conference but it’s another to actually action something.”

‘My biggest frustration is that I don’t know how to convince others to care for someone else but themselves’

Kelz Leece is a chronically ill, disabled person who has had to minimise the time she spends with others and the outside world. 

The 24-year-old says she has received a lot of unkind comments about this. 

Kelz, who is fully vaccinated and boosted, says when she does socialise - she avoids public transport and drives, something very few disabled people have the privilege to do, she says.

“I keep gatherings small away from strangers, try to stay outside if possible, and double mask whenever I am in public.”

Kelz says “people have said to me that others ‘shouldn’t have to make sacrifices to keep people like you alive’”. 

“My biggest frustration is that I don’t know how to convince others to care for someone else but themselves.”

She says she understands that New Zealand can’t use lockdowns forever because of the “financial and psychological impact on our community”.

“However, it’s hard to see these case numbers and not feel like people have given up.”

“My heart hurts that a lot of the public have got caught up in their views and blindly politicised the pandemic, refusing to think critically about their actions and how they impact others,” Kelz says.

Kelz would like to see further restriction, but says that is not what upsets her the most.

“There are genuinely people out there that think people like me are not only disposable but actually worth disposing of, so they can pretend Covid doesn’t exist.”

‘More support should be made available for immunocompromised people’

Keeley Bates is anxious about the long-term mental health effects of Covid-19. 

The 18-year-old is on strong medication for a lifelong autoimmune condition that heavily weakens her immune system. 

She says a friend took offence to her for not wanting to share drinks and food.

Keeley has also been yelled at for wearing their mask at a bus stop. 

“It really took me off guard.”

Although Keeley regularly washes and sanitises her hands, scans in using the Covid tracer app and distances herself from people, she says more needs to be done by the Government.

“I think there should be more support available, whether that be helping with errands if we need to avoid leaving the house or some other support.”

Keeley was also worried about losing their social life as she would not be going out with big groups like they normally would, she says. 

“A big part of my life is being surrounded by friends and whanau, and it’s so important for my mental wellbeing.

“I do feel like immunocompromised people have been swept under the rug and there’s not much guidance, advice or resources for us.”

Top image: Profile view shot of a teenage girl looking out of her window at sunset. Source: Getty.

More stories:

Person arrested after trying to drive car into Police during anti-mandate protest

How we racked up $16 billion in student debt in NZ

Covid-19 mandates and restrictions to ease once Omicron outbreak passes peak