Wednesday 10 February 2021

The Only Way is Up: getting the Covid-19 Vaccination

Two days ago, on Monday, 8th February, I received my first Covid-19 vaccination. I feel moved to post an account of how I came to get it, how it was and how it felt afterwards because I was blown away by the positive response of others on social media when I posted news of my good fortune. 

I was at first a little hesitant to do the “I've had my jab” thing on social media, fearful that it might look rather smug and “look at me”. I sought the opinion of a wise and trusted friend who often shares my views on such matters, and she assured me that to post about it would be welcomed by many. She was right. I am a very small voice, but if enough small voices say the same thing, they become a loud and influential voice. I am pleased and proud to learn that vaccine take-up is so high in the UK, but worried that it has been low in certain groups. I hope that anyone reading this will be reassured that it's the right thing to do, for themselves and for everyone. We all owe it to each other to talk up the good news of this rollout, not least given how much else has apparently gone wrong here in the UK.

I was aware that the UK’s vaccination programme was going remarkably well, and that as a man of my age living with Type One Diabetes, I could reasonably expect to be called sooner rather than later. However, I was thinking maybe sometime in March. I was more anxious for others in my household, three of whom work in schools and two of whom are required to be there in person; I am in the fortunate position of being able largely to control my own exposure to others, although I have throughout the pandemic resisted the urge to hide away and attempt to eliminate all risk.

Then last Friday, my younger daughter, who has mild learning difficulties, received a call from our GP inviting her to come for a vaccination on the following Monday, at the end of the working day. We had not been aware that she was in Priority Group 4, but they explained that all with a registered learning difficulty are classified as such for vaccination purposes.

Great news, we thought, not least as her work as a welfare assistant in a primary school exposes her daily to risk.

Then on the day of her appointment, we got another call from the GP practice: they had more doses than anticipated, enough that if I and my wife were able to come along too, we could all three have our vaccinations. We are both in our early sixties, and of course I have an added background risk through diabetes.

The whole process, from notification to injection, exemplified all that is good about how the UK’s programme is working. It felt personal and local, and strengthened my sense that the vaccine rollout will prove to be UK Primary Care’s finest hour. Ours is a relatively large practice in a small town - Ash Tree House in Kirkham, Lancashire; we have been patients there since moving to the area in 1986. Over the years, the practice has been there through all our medical needs of those 35 years, and many of the staff, clinical and non-clinical, have been known to us through personal or other professional and personal connections. We have had many occasions on which to feel grateful for their work.

In the case of this vaccination, communication was by phone, and was cheery, concise and personal. Our appointment was at the clinic in Kirkham, a place familiar to us from when the children were little. Not an ideal venue for a mass vaccination programme, but the most suitable NHS building in the town.

On arrival, we were greeted by a man and a woman marshalling the Car Park in hi-vis jackets, wrapped up against the bitter cold and wearing masks; only when we got near did we and they realise that we were old and good friends, former neighbours with whom we remain in touch and with whom we still socialise - well we used to! Another great thing - volunteers doing their bit: they are both retired police officers.

They, and everyone whom we saw throughout the process, were friendly, upbeat and welcoming. A young woman from our practice (a member of the admin staff) was at the door, letting people in one by one from the queue shivering outside the building. She herself was clearly freezing, and had to repeat the same words to everyone, but did so with a cheery smile, an apology for the wait, and an apologetic tone that suggested she was well aware that her questions checking our status were almost certainly superfluous.

The Practice Manager who checked us in and showed us to the waiting area recognised me and greeted me by name - such is life in a small town community. Her manner, at the end of a long and busy day, when she and everyone had clearly been on their feet all day, was positive, welcoming and reassuring. There was, throughout the building, a palpable sense of togetherness and teamwork in a less than ideal setting.

After a short wait in a room carefully adapted with temporary screens for distancing purposes, we were called through to be vaccinated. My wife and daughter received their jabs from one of the GPs, I from a practice nurse. It was quick and painless.

Side effects? Yes, entirely as predicted, and no reason whatsoever for alarm or hesitancy. We all had some degree of flu-like symptoms: shivery, achy, and lethargic. But very much just the next day, and by now (the second day) I am fine, as are they.

And which vaccine? Ours was the Oxford AstraZeneca - very much the dominant and default vaccine in the UK at present, for well-documented reasons. I have to say I wanted it to be that one, for the very silly reason that I am genuinely proud to be a graduate of a university whose scientists have done so much to develop and bring this vaccine to us at such astounding speed. Not long ago, the pernicious spirit of Trump and Brexit was claiming that we had all “had enough of experts”. I always thought this was dangerous nonsense, and if there’s one thing the Coronavirus pandemic has taught us, it’s that we sure need our experts. And Oxford University, so often criticised as élite and out of touch, has done us all a favour by reminding us that we need expertise and excellence, we need élite places of learning, we need places that select the best, and it’s not entirely their fault if those who prove to be the best do not come from the broadest of social backgrounds – that is an issue for society to address, and I wrote about it here

So there you are: a positive story in a year of gloom. It is my fervent hope that I shall soon see loads of posts on social media of people I know having had their jab. I shall get the same pleasure seeing that as others appeared to get from mine, and it will reinforce the sense that we are, despite all the caveats and warnings, heading to a better place as the days start to get longer and warmer. And just as we so joyfully did at that Olympic Opening Ceremony back in 2012, let us celebrate and be proud of our NHS, and all who work in it. 

Thank you, NHS, Thank you, scientists. Thank you, experts.

I need an optimistic and upbeat song as a title – how about The Only Way is Up?

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