‘Over 25 years old? Grab the jab today.’ Not me. ‘21-24 years old? Use the NHS website to book your vaccine now.’ Still not me. ‘Hi Dolly, you have been invited for your first Covid-19 vaccination. Please click the link to book.’ This is it.
Immediately I scramble to open the message, snatching up the soonest available slot at the University Medical Centre. Placing my phone back onto the desk, I take a deep breath and notice my hands are shaking. Here start the sleepless nights, the panicked bouts of stress, and the anxiety dreams. For those living with a fear of needles, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought our moral responsibilities into sharp focus.
Walk-in centres begin to open across the city two days later. I’ve already booked my appointment, but going now means I can bypass the pre-vaccine nerves and get it over and done with. This way, I don’t have to go on my own. My boyfriend, who couldn’t get a vaccine anywhere for the next three weeks, can come with me. I drop everything and practically run to the hospital.
As I arrive and enter the seemingly mile-long queue, a boy appears groaning and clutching his freshly jabbed arm in mock pain (I have more than a few choice words for careless idiots of this nature). Maybe he thinks his long-suffering girlfriend would be impressed by such a performance – her red-faced scuttle to the opposite side of the car park says otherwise.
After an hour of stunted bursts of shuffling, in which we gain mere inches in our battle toward the hospital doors, a hi-vis clad security guard appears at the front of the queue. I instantly jump to the worst-case scenario: they’ve run out of vaccines and they’re telling me to go home. No. “What?” I turn to my boyfriend, realising I’ve spoken aloud. “I’m not leaving here without a vaccine” – fighting talk from the woman who has spent most of her life utterly terrified of needles.
“There’s been a medical emergency,” the security guard says. A medical emergency. My stomach knots as I repeat the words in my head. A medical emergency. I know what that means. He tells us the ambulance is 15 minutes away, and I tell myself that will add at least another hour onto my wait time. A medical emergency. Who’s to say that won’t be me? My heart remains firmly in my mouth for the next sixty minutes as I invent intricate scenarios in which I faint or go into anaphylactic shock.
Two hours in, a set of doors fly open. Four members of hospital staff emerge trailing trolleys and folders. My time is up. They’ve administered all the available doses. I follow their movements with wild, panicked eyes as they load their belongings into their cars, looking on helplessly as they buckle their seatbelts and drive away. I want to shout after them, “What about me?” If I’m left waiting much longer, I know I’ll back out and run home whimpering. The queue moves forward. False alarm.
My wait has hit the three-hour mark. Each time the security guard patrols the queue, his eyes flick from person to person. My heart skips a beat as I realise he’s counting under his breath. Just five more people ahead of me, four more people, three people, two, one – I’m through. 461 days after I first had to self-isolate, I’m finally receiving my Covid vaccine. I’ve waited 461 days to hug my vulnerable family members. I’ve waited 461 days knowing I could unwittingly pass it on to my asthmatic mother. I’ve waited 461 days with this god-awful feeling in my stomach that I could be next. Suddenly, three hours doesn’t seem all that long.
The next 15 minutes fly by as I am passed from receptionist to waiting room assistant to the nurse who will be delivering my jab. My breathing becomes increasingly rapid as I sit down and tell her I’d rather not see the needle. My arm tenses as she rolls up my sleeve and chats aimlessly about my degree subject. Moments later, the whole ordeal is over.
And as I am handed my vaccination record card, I begin to cry. Not for the uncertainty which lies ahead of me, but for the hell I have left behind.