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On Vaccination Day

March 11, 2021
by the gentle author

Statue of John Keats at Guy’s Hospital

It is now almost a year since I had the coronavirus and last week a letter arrived inviting me for a vaccination. Immediately, I booked the next available appointment at the nearest location and then cycled down to Guy’s Hospital at London Bridge yesterday to get it.

I joined the long line of people in masks, snaking through the hospital courtyard and leading into a large white steel-frame tent. There was collective expectation in the air and this sense of excited anticipation was heightened by the low-angled sunlight, blinding us in the queue and causing us all to raise our hands, shielding our eyes from the light as we shuffled forward to ascend the ramp.

The man supervising the line asked me to show him the text on my phone with my reference number, but when I reached the entrance of the tent another man asked my name. When I gave my surname, he checked it on a list and then called my first name through to another seated a desk inside. I was startled at this sudden transition from a number to a family name to my own name. In a moment, I had transformed from one of the masses to an individual and the nature of the experience changed from anonymous to personal.

Thirty metal chairs were arranged in lines, two metres apart, and, once I had sanitised my hands, I sat down upon an empty chair. An attendant walked up and down the lines of chairs, wiping them between occupants. In front of us was a large screen with our names upon it and, to one side, another ramp leading to where the vaccinations were being administered.

I cast my eyes around at my fellows. We were alone in this moment, carers and loved ones were not admitted. No-one spoke as we sat impassively watching our names move up the screen. When they reached the top of the list, each person stood up in turn and walked through to into the next room without looking back.

The diverse list of names revealed the range of our cultural origins and as I looked around the room, there were young and old, and those who were infirm and those evidently fit and healthy. I tried to guess which name belonged to which person from their appearance but failed. I could not discern any common factor between us, beyond that we were all human and Londoners.

Time was suspended as we sat in our shared reverie punctuated only by repeated summons to the next room every few minutes. We were waiting but we were calm. I imagined that perhaps this was how the afterlife could be and that the attendants were angels, shepherding us towards a reckoning.

Quickly, as chairs emptied, were wiped and filled again with new occupants, I moved from being the newest arrival to the one who had been waiting the longest. Then my name came up with the number of the station where I would receive my vaccine, and I stood and walked through into the next room, sanitising my hands again as I did so.

Cubicles with deep blue curtains lined a wide passageway and I walked inside to meet a young nurse who closed the curtain behind us. We sat on either side of a desk while she asked me questions and entered my answers into the computer.

Even though I have lived with the assumption of a degree of immunity since I recovered, which has reduced my fear of the virus, I was surprised at the strength of my emotions on receiving the vaccination. Yet these overwhelming feelings of gratitude were sublimated into a technical conversation about whether I had any recent experience of flu symptoms or whether I had allergies. I was struck that the nurse showed no sign of weariness and spoke to me as if I were the first person to whom she had ever asked these questions.

Automatically, I unbuttoned my shirt so the vaccination could be administered upon my upper arm. The nurse wrote the details of my vaccination upon a small card, the size of calling card, with the date for my next shot. ‘Now take good care of this,’ she said as she handed it over. Once I placed the card in my pocket, it acquired the quality of a magic talisman that will keep me safe.

When I walked back outside into the afternoon sunlight again and was alone, my breath faltered as I filled with a powerful surge of relief. I removed my mask. I felt blessed, as if the vaccination had been a religious experience. I felt relief that I have been fortunate enough only to suffer mild symptoms of the virus and recover last year. And relief that – after the tragedy of over two and a half million people who have died – the end of this collective global nightmare is now in sight.

You may also like to read about

Upon Recovering From The Coronavirus

The Gentle Author’s Coronavirus Diary

30 Responses leave one →
  1. Guy Marriage permalink
    March 11, 2021

    Congratulations to the Gentle Author – I’ve loved reading your posts every day for the last few years, and I’m very glad that you are well, vaccinated, and continuing on. You’re a good tonic as well ! Keep it up – keep safe – keep healthy. And: thank you.

  2. Sue Brown permalink
    March 11, 2021

    Hopefully you will be OK – some people who have had Covid have reported some pretty nasty side effects after the vaccine. I had the Pfizer and was fine although felt rather run down for two days afterwards, as if I was coming down with a cold (my immune system activating itself, I have no doubt). Friends who had Astra Zeneca reported symptoms from almost flu-like to vomiting.

  3. Kathi Richards permalink
    March 11, 2021

    Such a different experience than my shots except for the emotion. And yes, that card feels like a talisman. Drink lots of water.

  4. Joan Isaac permalink
    March 11, 2021

    An emotional journey well told indeed

  5. March 11, 2021

    Thank you, Gentle Author, for sharing your experience in your own inimitable way. I will be thinking about your words when I go to receive my vaccination on Monday.

  6. Diane Clement permalink
    March 11, 2021

    I love ending my evenings here on the coast of California reading your emails. Each one is like a little treasure transporting me to a part of London I was hoping to explore in 2020. I often study your words and the photos using google maps to look up the locations. I like to see how close I may have come in my wandering around London.

    Your vaccination experience was nearly identical to my own except for one bit of instruction given by the fireman who administered the shot. He suggested I take a phone photo of my vaccine card as a backup while I waited the required 15 minutes in the recovery tent. Such a good idea!

    So glad I discovered you. I’m 76 and not as healthy as I was even a year ago. By the time there’s enough normality for flights from here to London to resume I doubt it will be sensible for me to resume my wandering. Thus your emails will be one of the ways I can still be there, sitting on a bench by myself watching how Londoners live. Thank you. I’m glad your covid was mild and your vaccination experience positive.

  7. Catherine Mason permalink
    March 11, 2021

    I had my first vaccination on Monday and I felt a combination of elation and relief. It was an extremely emotional experience.

  8. Annie Green permalink
    March 11, 2021

    I echo every one of these sentiments. My own experience of getting vaccinated in Bradford where all was order, friendliness, speed and efficiency, made me feel proud and grateful for our health system which has stepped up to do the job properly. I genuinely felt that I was being given my life back. The only hyperbole I have applied so far to this world we now live in. I would, however, recommend paracetamol for a day or so…

  9. March 11, 2021

    A lovely gentle read. Very useful for sending to sceptics and scared.

  10. March 11, 2021

    What a strikingly quiet and beautiful piece.

  11. Richard Smith permalink
    March 11, 2021

    I enjoyed reading your account of when you were vaccinated. It was an emotional read and your description was wonderful. Thank you GA.

  12. Mary permalink
    March 11, 2021

    I think the feeling of emotion on receiving the vaccine has been a common theme with the majority of people. I remember saying to the nurse “Thank you – but those words seem woefully inadequate”.
    I do not follow any religion but I had a quiet moment waiting in the car afterwards thinking of all the brilliant scientists that had developed the vaccine, the amazing front line health workers and other key workers across the world who have worked so hard and of course the victims of Covid-19 and their families who have endured untold suffering and who, for some, the vaccine has arrived too late.
    I feel extremely fortunate to have received my first dose and the mild symptoms afterwards were nothing. I hope we emerge from this into a more considerate world.

  13. March 11, 2021

    Greetings from Boston,

    Thank you for describing in detail your recent experience being given your coronavirus shot. My experience was similar. Indeed, there was a “collective expectation in that air” and “a sense of anticipation” among those waiting. The whole operation went smoothly. We had to sit for fifteen minutes after the shot to make sure we were ok.

    Being vaccinated does give hope. I enthusiastically hugged my granddaughter yesterday for the first time in a year. Yeah!

  14. March 11, 2021

    I’m so glad to hear this news! We went for a very long time, in the Hudson River Valley, with a paltry, dismal number of vaccines. Not even health care workers in long term care facilities were getting the shot (imagine?). Just recently, we’ve gotten a consistent supply. Appointments are opening up, and the local chatter is all about vaccines, vaccines, vaccines.
    (just like your blog this morning……) I had my first shot a week ago, and my husband will get this second at the Veterans Administration next week. We’re making progress!

    Yes, having those little cards in our wallets feel like the proverbial “Get Out Of Jail Free” cards from childhood.

    Dare I say, some of our local friends are planning to have a small, discreet dinner party when we have all passed the “deadline”. Onward!

  15. Ros permalink
    March 11, 2021

    Lovely piece. I felt the same, a wonderful gift. Very mild side effects after AstraZeneca.

  16. David OFlaherty permalink
    March 11, 2021

    Thank you for sharing, and congratulations!

  17. Esther Wilkinson Rank permalink
    March 11, 2021

    Glad you had a vaccination, GA. My experience was similar — excellent staff and volunteers, welcoming, well organised and lots of people feeling very grateful. Bravo National Health Service for all you have done and continue to do for all of us here in the UK.

  18. Richard permalink
    March 11, 2021

    I was also struck by the nurses friendliness. When I said ‘is that it then’ she said ‘why, do you want another one? I was wearing a beautiful silk cravat which I hope they enjoyed.

  19. March 11, 2021

    Thank you for this lovely piece of writing. I relate to the feeling of ascending to something of the afterlife, too! But, here in Alberta, my experience was, though kind and efficient, not as personal. It was a bit like lining up to catch a plane. I felt emotional after, while waiting the required 15 minutes to make sure I would be OK, as I looked at the people around me: mostly seniors (I was in the 75+ group), some in rough physical shape, caregivers were allowed; some EMT; some essential workers (the youngest-looking ones). It was a cold morning– Canadian winter, but it could have been worse. My husband had gone the day before, and he knew that he should drive me so that I could wait in a warm car. The relief and elation is hard to describe. We have lost a year with our family but we have a sweet future ahead with them. My little black dachshund and I have more time together. Those things were uncertain last summer. I’m happy for you–your “mild” Covid experience was harrowing to read.

  20. Su C permalink
    March 11, 2021

    I am in tears after reading your poignant account. I am not yet eligible for the vaccine here in California. As more around me do get vaccinated, as well as those unknown to me but whose well being I have come to care deeply about, I realize how much emotion has been bottled up inside me. Blessings and good health to you GA, and all of us. I wait very anxiously for my turn to remove my mask and breathe deeply the new air.

  21. March 11, 2021

    I have just arrived home from a visit to Guys Hospital myself today and had walked on the pavement alongside the Georgian house where Keats had once lived. Having sat down with my cup of tea to read the GA ……there was Keats being kept company by a pigeon!
    So pleased you have received your first vaccine and only you could write about the experience in such a touching, delightful way.

  22. Susanna permalink
    March 11, 2021

    Thank you for this detailed account. We have all been in this together, and so many here in the US have been concerned for the UK since the beginning. Here the process is a bit different- local drugstore chains are offering the vaccine according to state (Ohio) eligibility guidelines, mostly by age group, and it has been a goose chase and very frustrating to get an appointment. We are on our own to find and schedule a spot, which is very burdensome for many elderly people who are not computer literate and have no friends or family to assist. Citizens have stepped up to search for appts on behalf of these people, we are all sharing whatever information and tricks we know. Health systems and clinics have also been trying to schedule their registered patients and sometimes others, but you must register to be on a call list when vaccine is available. County health departments have limited vaccine supplies and are calling residents based on a lottery once they are eligible by age- must pre-register to “win” an appointment. Your NHS system seems more rigid but ultimately more fair- we have to scramble and use initiative, but that’s pretty much how we roll over here anyway… Best of luck and health to you all!

  23. Robin permalink
    March 11, 2021

    Wonderful news! And thank you for the evocative post on the experience. So glad you are now protected from this horrible virus, GA.

  24. Mark permalink
    March 11, 2021

    Thank you for sharing your experience, and welcome to the club of the vaccinated!
    I was, however, a little alarmed at your line about taking your mask off… I trust that was just ’cause you’d stepped outside… you should continue to exercise caution: it’s quite likely that the immunity gained from having had Covid a year ago has waned considerably, and the first dose of the vaccine takes three weeks to reach a high level of protection, so in your shoes I would continue to maintain a decent level of caution until the end of the month.

  25. March 11, 2021

    So happy that you have received the vaccination!

    I just received my first today, the second scheduled 04/01.

    Sending best wishes from Michigan, USA,

  26. linda kincaid permalink
    March 12, 2021

    Lovely description of getting the vaccination and not dissimilar to my own experience. Like you, after having the virus a year ago I have felt safer than most people have but getting the vaccine still felt great. Best wishes to you as always.

  27. Jill Wilson permalink
    March 12, 2021

    Glad to hear that you have been ‘done’! I was also impressed by the efficiency and kindness of the service, and felt very thankful for our wonderful NHS and the scientists who have worked so hard to develop the vaccine.

    Onwards and outwards…

  28. Mary Connolly permalink
    March 12, 2021

    I loved reading about your vaccination day. Hope you keep well. Everything you write about is so interesting to read. Always feel like a letter to each one of us. Thank you for that. I have had my first vaccine with no really bad side effects. Think everyone should have the vaccine. For me like others its been a lonely time since Covid 19 started. Lovely to find the kindness given to people alone. Take good care of yourself. My very good wishes. Mary x

  29. Linda Granfield permalink
    March 14, 2021

    Dear GA, I am so glad to read you’ve received your first dose of vaccine.

    Here in Toronto, we still don’t know when we will get our shots. Maybe May, perhaps June, July…it all depends on better organization and a dependable supply of the vaccine.
    We have neither right now.

    I look forward to the day when I can feel the relief you described. Until that day, it’s “lockdown” and double-masks, longing for our small grandchild and hoping to outrun the virus while we wait.

    Please take care.

  30. Monika permalink
    March 14, 2021

    Hi, happy to hear you had your vaccination, hope you are ok. Thanks for another lovely GA masterpiece.
    Take care,

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