Getting his first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine didn't knock a bother out of 85-year-old Jimmy Brohan, but then that's hardly surprising – a corner back with the Cork hurlers through the 1950s, he survived many a tough afternoon in the cauldron that was Semple Stadium.
Brohan was one of those to receive the Covid-19 vaccine on Tuesday as the general rollout of the vaccine to those aged 85 and older picked up pace.
Although supplies of Covid-19 vaccines were delivered to scores of GP surgeries on Mondayas the State moves into this next phase of its vaccination programme, the doses were generally not ready for use until Tuesday.
“I shipped a lot more punishment on the hurling field – it was Hell’s Kitchen all over the pitch whenever you met Tipperary, you knew you were in a match with them – so getting the jab here today, you wouldn’t even notice it,” said Brohan with a smile.
A sprightly man who turned 85 last June, Brohan recalled playing with the legendary Christy Ring as he waited the necessary 15 minutes after getting the Covid-19 vaccine at the Blackrock Hall medical centre.
“I remember once Ring scored a goal against Tipp and as he was coming off the pitch afterwards, the Rattler Byrne, a tough corner back if ever there was one, says to him, ‘Bejaysus Christy, we’ll have to shoot you,’ and quick as a flash Ring shoots back, ‘Ye might as well, ye’ve tried everything else!’”
An All-Ireland medal winner with Cork in 1954, Brohan says he had no hesitation in getting the Covid-19 vaccine as he hopes it will allow him – and everyone else in his native Blackrock and beyond – to return to a more normal lifestyle.
“They rang me here from the clinic last week to tell me I would be about a fortnight waiting, but they rang again yesterday to say I was on today, so I came down – if you get the virus and you don’t have the vaccine, you have no chance, but now I’ve got it [the vaccine], I’m much more at ease.
“It’s been a long year since the Covid struck . . . my wife, Betty, is dead two years now but I go down to her grave in St Michael’s every day and walk around there so I do get out, but getting the vaccine should give me a bit more freedom now.”
Brohan was administered the vaccine by his GP, Dr Paddy Hayes, at his practice at the Blackrock Hall primary care centre, which is facing into a busy week of administering the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to about 260 patients aged 85 and older.
Dr Hayes said on Tuesday: “We did 40 patients yesterday and we will be doing 70 today and 150 tomorrow – we have three vaccinators – a GP and two nurses – each doing a patient every 15 minutes, so we are doing 12 patients an hour and we’re working our way through the list.
“We phoned 260 people over the weekend and there were only maybe three or four who opted not to get it [the vaccine], and they might change their mind, but you’re talking about 99 per cent uptake, which is phenomenal for any vaccination – the flu vaccine is about 60 per cent [uptake] so it’s huge.”
GPs across the country have hailed the first general administration of Covid-19 vaccines to over-85s, with one calling it a “hugely positive occasion”.
One GP surgery, the Keogh Practice in Waterford city, had administered 150 first doses to patients aged 85 and over by lunchtime on Tuesday, with a further 150 patients to be inoculated on Tuesday afternoon and 72 more on Wednesday.
Keogh Practice GP Niall MacNamara described the atmosphere among patients receiving the vaccine as “magical”.
“They were in super form. You have to remember that many have not been out of the house for ages, so this was always going to be a special day,” he said. “This is a hugely positive occasion. These things are never perfect but it was one of those days when it was a privilege to work in general practice.”
While acknowledging that some smaller practices might struggle with the logistics involved, Dr MacNamara said GPs would ensure that “no one gets left behind” on vaccination.
Emerging from her local doctor’s surgery, in Limerick city, where she had received her first vaccine shot, Patricia Lewin, (93) looked to the heavens and declared: “There’s the sun shining now, and everything tells us we are moving forward, I’m having a great morning, it’s fantastic really.”
A history graduate from NIHE - now University of Limerick, she added smiling, “it’s nice to be a part of history”.
She was one of the first of a group of over 85s to receive the vaccine at Dr Ronan Ryder’s surgery at Old Windmill Medical Centre.
Encouraging others to get the jab, Ms Lewin said “I don’t think anyone should avoid it. I get a bit enraged when I see people creating protests about it, I think they must be people who are only waiting to protest about something.”
She said it had been “lonely” living alone under lockdown, having lost her husband Jerry, 13 years ago.
Reading “The Irish Times everyday” and her penchant for “Clive James and detective stories” have helped pass the time during the pandemic, she said.
“As well as that I have a DVD player. Last week there was a night when I really wanted a bit of comfort, when I was really down, so I got out Laurence Olivier in Henry V and played him on my DVD, and you know he was so wonderful, and Shakespeare of course.”
Once the country comes out of lockdown and international borders are reopened, she plans a “Ryanair flight to Kent to see my sister and my niece, who happens to be getting her vaccine today in Canterbury town”.
From there, she hopes to revisit Shakespeare’s birthplace Stratford-upon-Avon, where she and “Jerry” had travelled together in happier times.
“Perhaps I’ll go to a posh hotel and see a play — isn’t it what you would want for the rest of your life?”
Dr Ryder said: “Every patient we approached were absolutely delighted, they all want to be vaccinated, nobody has any hesitation coming, and nobody has declined a vaccination.”
“We are delighted to be involved because this is the essence of general practice, and hopefully the whole population will be vaccinated as quickly as possible, so that we can all get back to normality.”
About 20,000 Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are being delivered this week to GPs for the over-85s, with twice this number to follow next week.
In total, more than 80,000 Covid-19 vaccines are being distributed this week as the rollout moves into a second phase.