The emotional journey of the covid vaccine recipient

Mary Higgins reflects on how it feels to receive the covid-19 vaccination

  1. Vaccines are being developed: Slightly removed: it is great that the scientists are working on this, but I have three new versions of policies and guidelines to read, a clinic to run, people to care for, and I miss my family. Lonely: it makes logical sense to be separated from them as I am the risk factor for them, but I miss them. Low grade and constant anxiety as a front line worker with a side order of guilt as I don’t work in intensive care or medical emergency care. What is it like for them? Don’t think about it too much, let’s get through today.
  2. Studies published: Tiny bit of hope, with cynicism (how long will this take to roll out? Will we get prioritised as healthcare workers? Shouldn’t the patients come first?) and some self-protection (stay safe, this may take a while).
  3. Approval of the vaccine: little more hope, balanced by self-preservation: please don’t let me get infected when this is getting so real. Numbers are trending upwards..
  4. Christmas and New Year: all I want for Christmas is…to read the research and understand how this particular vaccine works. Anger when someone says to a colleague that they shouldn’t get it as they are pregnant: do women not have the option of choice?
  5. Vaccines arrive in the country: little bit more hope, with doubt (how long will this take to roll out?) and more self-protection
  6. Seeing colleagues getting the first doses: delight for them (working in intensive care, don’t they deserve every bit of it), watching (any sides of a side effect there?), a smidge of resentment if I am being honest with myself and nervousness. 
  7. Getting the email from Human Resources: quick, get the appointment now! Adrenaline rush as I get that appointment as quickly as possible. Nervousness to check if I got the email of acknowledgement. Celebration with people virtually – this is getting real. Reflection as we all think – the end is truly in sight. Embarrassment in telling family that I have an appointment: why do I get this and not my 76 year old father? Or 80 year old aunt? Surprise and amazement at their relief at the news: were they really worried about me? 
  8. Vaccine Day minus one: the feeling in the hospital is that of wonder and disbelief. Delight as the pharmacist confirms that the vaccines are arriving tomorrow, though they look both amazed and stressed at the responsibility. Patients are picking up the feeling of wonder amongst the staff and asking about it: gratification at their delight, mixed with a little sheepishness that we are getting it, but they get that this also keeps them safe. Humility and appreciation mixed with a sense of unreality. 
  9. Night before: this feels like both Christmas Eve as a child and the day before an examination (nervous-excited). Restrained celebration at home and wish to talk to as many people as possible, but not non medics as it doesn’t feel appropriate. Checking in and reflection with friends to make sure they are not getting side effects one week in: lucky them, that improvement is kicking in now. 
  10. 1:45 am on Vaccine Dose 1 Day: why am I awake? Logically I know I need to go back to sleep and be on form for today, but I want to jump up and down with glee. Check the covid numbers for today, and reflect that for every one this is a person with a family and people who care about them and is worried about them; feel slightly removed from this, and remind myself that we are not yet out of the woods. Let’s not drop the guard yet: need to hold firm, stay safe, and keep other safe. How can I possibly be so lucky as to get to this point without symptoms? Have been so careful, but so have others and they got infected..
  11. Vaccine Day: need to dress to allow easy access to my left arm. Don’t need to show underwear to my colleagues.
  12. Arriving in work: just as well I am not down for clinical duties today as really not able to concentrate.
  13. First people get vaccinated: great to have a photographer as it is an historic day for the hospital, but can we have our turns please? Anticipation builds. 
  14. Get the vaccine: grateful appreciation for science. 
  15. Wait for 15 to 30 minutes after: no signs of any side effects, want to high five people, but settle for elbow bumps and raised eyebrows and winks over our masks. 
  16. To tweet or not: does the vaccine work if I don’t share it on social media? Am I slightly euphoric to be so flippant?
  17. Go to park for a couple of minutes: the world is a slightly brighter place today. So very, very grateful. Thank you Science.

Mary Higgins is an obstetrician working in Dublin.

Competing interests: None declared.

Twitter: @mairenihuigin