Care homes and Covid: ‘The first line of defence is going to be a wall of vaccinated staff’

Belfast manager says first approved vaccine is ‘glimmer of light at end of very dark tunnel’

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine that got the go-ahead in Britain and Northern Ireland this week and frontline workers are expected to be among the first to receive a vaccine. Photograph: Getty Images

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine that got the go-ahead in Britain and Northern Ireland this week and frontline workers are expected to be among the first to receive a vaccine. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Seon MacStiofain, the nurse manager at Fruithill Nursing Home in Andersonstown in west Belfast, is looking forward to the day when regular life can return to his and all care homes in Northern Ireland.

He, and the more than 50 people who work at the home, should be among the first in line to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine that got the go-ahead in Britain and Northern Ireland on Wednesday.

It is expected that some 12,000 frontline health and social care workers will receive the vaccine before Christmas, and Mr MacStiofain is hoping those working at Fruithill Nursing Home will be among that number.

“The first line of defence is going to be a wall of vaccinated staff,” he says.

Thereafter, as more vaccines come on stream, the 30 or so residents at the home will be high up the queue to be vaccinated.

“Once the vaccine is fully embedded in the population it will allow for the common touch, as I call it. There is nothing like hugging your mum when she has been in isolation,” he says.

The nursing home is currently Covid-free but nonetheless the restrictions are quite stringent. At the moment one close family member wearing personal protective equipment can visit a relative for one hour once a week in a special isolation area.

Other contact is through the likes of Skype, smartphones and tablets.

Mr MacStiofain says the response among staff and residents to the news of the authorisation of the vaccine was rather muted at first, with people guardedly wondering if this was really the start of the end.

“There hasn’t been a great reaction yet because it is very much early days,” he says. “People are talking, asking is this the magic bullet, the thing that is going to save us from this continual in-and-out lockdown?”

Mr MacStiofain says some people will have concerns about vaccination but he is “very supportive” of the programme. “If I am offered it I will take it.”

But it is very important, he adds, that there is no degree of compulsion about taking the vaccine. People must have the right to refuse if that is their wish.

“You can’t force people to take it. We all have our own moral and ethical dilemmas to face when we decide to choose vaccines.”

But approval of the vaccine was a good day, he feels. Getting fully back to normal will take time Mr MacStiofain understands full well but, he adds, the vaccine is a “glimmer of light at the end of a very dark tunnel”.