Our first vaccination clinic: No dissenters, no complaints, only smiles

It’s only when you’ve been inoculated that you realise how oppressed you were for a year

The coveted vaccine: the day is surely coming when we, and the Leaving Certs, can at last celebrate properly.

We waited for the Covid vaccine delivery with the anxiety of a naughty child on Christmas Eve. Would they come and, if they did, would there be enough?

We had heard the stories: the vaccines that had gone to the wrong surgery; the vaccines that had come but not the needles; the missing doses and the cancelled patients. On my local radio slot I emphasised that all GP practices could do was order the things and pray for delivery. There was a politburo-type inscrutability in the way the HSE dealt out information. Nobody actually said we could tell you but we would then have to kill to you, but you felt it was a damn close thing.

A high-up doctor on national radio laid out a clear plan for the country which was very impressive but you would have been hard put to find it written down anywhere. Perhaps, said one of my 75-80s, they know what they are doing but they are afraid to inject any optimism in case the country goes mad.

Meanwhile, anyone who answered our phone was subjected to an interrogation of when, what and how, often by a concerned relative living abroad. It sounded a bit weak to admit time and again that I did not know what type of vaccine we were getting, when it would arrive and when Daddy would be done. The Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) encouragingly sent out the message that nobody would be left behind.


Of course, we had been there before, with our staff vaccinations. While some GPs happily burbled on WhatsApp that everyone in their office was done and dusted, many of us sulkily waited on the first jabs.

I felt for the Leaving Cert students. It was the uncertainty that was causing us the maximum stress. If somebody would just tell us what was expected of us, we could crack on and do it. But, as in the spirit of the Leaving Cert, we hoped for the best and kept our heads down and got on with the paperwork.

It was easy to identify our categories of 70-75, 75-80 and onwards. After some surprise that some patients were as old as that, or indeed as young as that, we sent in our figures.

There were no dissenters, no complaints, only smiles. This was the generation that remembered TB and polio, and <br/> they were up for it

The next big decision was the balloons. I was an enthusiast, and felt that they should be tied to the gate, like at a children’s party. Not everyone agreed, but they let me off as we had bigger things to worry about.

At the ICGP, CME (continuing medical education) groups' hints, tips and worries were shared. It was a fair reflection, in hindsight, at how the GPs of Ireland were burned out. After a year of complete change and stress, the vaccination clinics had a last straw on the camel's back look about them.

But then came the rewards. We made the invitational phone calls and felt pure enthusiasm rushing back up the line. Lifts were arranged and loose clothing sorted. Then the great day came; the first vaccination clinic. And they rolled up, sitting excitedly in the cars like children arriving at a party.

It was great to see them again, the over-85s, as they walked and wheeled and stomped on sticks, finally fighting back against the bug that had grounded them for a year. There were no dissenters, no complaints, only smiles. This was the generation that remembered TB and polio, and they were up for it.

One woman could hardly make it from the car to the wheelchair. Her daughter drily commented that this was what lockdown had done to her. When we had last met her a year ago, she had been driving her own car. Many more were delighted to see the neighbours and excited chatter filled the recovery area.

What a day! The question was not whether to have balloons but how many for the next time. And when it was all over, we sat in the waiting room and considered what we had done. The admin staff who were the friendly faces at the door and a blur of quiet efficiency; the nurse cooking up the vials in a MasterChef-style trance; the registrar who cheerfully held the phone and made sure that the usual business was not neglected; the GPs who answered concerns and jabbed like Katie Taylor; and the medical student who showed rare tact and gentleness.

I have vaccinated myself so I know how it feels. It is only when you have had it done, you realise how oppressed you have been for the past year. It is a bit like getting the driving test, you still wear a seat belt and obey the speed limit but the feeling of relief is magical, and you get the feeling that the day is surely coming when we, and the Leaving Certs, can at last celebrate properly.