Vaccination is what makes this lockdown different to the last one

The vaccine’s secret ingredient: hope - written by Brendan Kelly, Professor of Psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin and Consultant Psychiatrist at Tallaght University Hospital

At first, I do not recognise the feeling. I know it is distantly familiar, but its name escapes me.

It is 11am on Tuesday (January 11). I stand at the door of the staff vaccination centre in Tallaght University Hospital, waiting for my Covid vaccination.

Brendan Kelly TUH vaccine 1

Nurse Shauna Delaney, Clinical Facilitator in ICU, after administering the Covid-19 vaccination to Professor Brendan Kelly at Tallaght University Hospital on Tuesday

A nurse beckons me in and explains the process. I sign a consent form. The nurse smiles.

I go to the next desk where another nurse tells me precisely how she will give me the vaccine. She answers my questions. She smiles.

Suddenly, I recognise the feeling in the room, the emotion I felt on arriving but struggled to name. It is hope.

No wonder I am confused.

For almost a year now, I have seen my colleagues in the hospital work at the coalface of this pandemic. I have witnessed the dedication of staff in our intensive care unit and medical wards as they treat the sickest patients with Covid and other illnesses.

I have seen the fearlessness of our emergency department staff as they navigate the ever-changing face of the pandemic.

I have admired the work of hospital management as they adapt hospital systems to an unprecedented challenge and, now, create a vast vaccination programme. Their work is momentous.

And I have seen, first-hand, my colleagues in psychiatry provide much-needed mental health care to the most vulnerable. Never was it needed more.

Most of all, I have seen the compassion of doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, cleaners, caterers and so many more who come to work every day, put on their PPE and simply get the job done.

These inspiring people never lost hope, even in the darkest days of this pandemic. In general practice and public health, too, the work has been exceptional.

As a country, though, our hope took a battering over the past month. Case numbers rose. Restrictions tightened. Public frustration was palpable: when will all of this end? It was easy to lose hope.

But all of this will end. Pandemic pass. The losses are substantial, but, as a country, we will come through this.

Our behaviour is our strongest defence. We have more power than we think.

We stay at home as much as possible. When we go out, we physically distance and wear face coverings when appropriate. We stay apart and find new ways to connect.

Of course, we have been here before. But this time is different because we have the prospect of a vaccine to sustain us. Roll-out will be careful but steady. The vaccines have passed all the safety checks. They are powerful tools.

What was vaccination like for me?

After so many months of build-up, the jab itself is something of an anti-climax. I barely feel it. It is less of a jab than the annual flu jab. “Is that it?”, I ask the nurse, somewhat deflated by the lack of drama. “That’s it”, she says. “You’re done”.

I am observed for 15 minutes to see if I have an anaphylactic reaction. I do not. Five minutes later, I’m back at work. Over the following days, I watch for side-effects. I have none. It is as if nothing happened.

But something amazing did happen. I was vaccinated against Covid-19, cause of the current pandemic. It is always a privilege to work in healthcare, but now I am doubly privileged to be vaccinated too. I’ll have a second dose in a few weeks’ time.

Vaccination is what makes this lock-down different to the last one. It adds that extra dollop of hope that makes all the difference.

After my vaccination, the hospital photographer takes a picture of me and the nurse who vaccinated me. “For social media”, he says.

In the photo, our faces are partially covered with masks, but it is still clear that, despite the suffering of this pandemic, despite the losses, and despite the hard weeks behind us and tough days to come, we are smiling.

These are tentative smiles, but smiles nonetheless, filled with hope.

Brendan Kelly is the author of Coping with Coronavirus: How to Stay Calm and Protect Your Mental Health (Merrion Press).

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