Many of you readers have probably noticed that my blog has been neglected since April. This is mainly because I have been working a few days a week on the Covid immunization team with Vancouver Coastal Health. I thought I it was important for me to do my part for the cause. I also thought it might be nice to actually have the opportunity to talk to live humans. British Columbia is doing well-84% of the population 12 years of age or older has had one vaccine, and 75% have had both doses. These stats are amazing-so the clinics are reducing capacity as the number of fully vaxxed people increases. My temporary extra job will be coming to an end soon.
The experience has been overwhelmingly positive. What a pleasure to work with people who are mostly positive, appreciative, respectful and relieved, …..I don’t think I ran into a single grumpy person! Many were anxious, confused and uncertain, even still hesitant and afraid-but not grumpy! What a nice change. I was continually thanked for my service and I also thanked everyone for showing up!
I worked at several different clinic locations in Vancouver, and also Whistler, but my most frequent location was the Vancouver Convention Centre ‘under the sails’ at Canada Place. Here is the venue, the lineup and the view from my lunch break.
My first day at the convention center we had 3500 vaccine appointments booked in 10 hours. In June, the number of appointments was increased to 5000 per day! It was crazy busy, but ran like a well-oiled machine.
Working as an immunizer involves much more than just giving the vaccine. It also involves explaining how the vaccine works, potential side effects and obtaining consent, answering all sorts of questions, assessing allergies, needle anxiety and anxiety in general, monitoring in the aftercare area for 15 minutes, delivering vaccines to immunizers’ tables and often even drawing up vaccines. Drawing up the vaccines is stressful as every last drop needs to be squeezed out of a vial so that the remainder left in 3 vials can be combined to make 1 extra dose! No wastage, but talk about pressure! My first day, there were 3498 appointments booked and 3510 doses available = not much room for error. 3526 doses were actually given that day. Anyone who has previously fainted, felt faint with a vaccine or is really anxious is taken to the First-aid area so they can have their vaccine laying down. Some people are still unsure and confused when they arrive at their appointment and they need more time and reassurance.
A surprising number of people booked their appts on their birthdays so they could extra celebrate. They tried to make it fun. Families and roommates showed up together, sometimes in costume or dressed in a theme colour! I loved when young adults brought along their 12 to 18 year old siblings. Stickers where available on the way out.
You can imagine the interesting responses from people during or after their immunizations. I kept track of them in a sort of ‘covid immunizer journal’ on my phone, and am including my favourites here. Details have been altered, removed and in some cases combined, to protect identity.
The Convention Centre is right in downtown Vancouver. I was amazed at the vast amount of intricately tattooed arms that were presented to me. These often required extra thought re landmarking and placement. It is totally OK to give an injection on a tattooed area, but I tried to avoid doing nasty things like stabbing angels and kittens in the eyeball! I enjoyed asking about the significance of tattooed images because I find this information fascinating, and it also served as a good distraction technique. I had some requests to give the vaccine into a particular tattoo, usually a religious or medical image. I saw a few Plague Doctor tattoos, which are considered ‘dark and edgy’ according to the internet. Plague Doctors treated victims of the Bubonic Plague. They wore big black hats, long black coats, and bird masks with large beaks. The beaks were filled with herbs and spices to mask the stench of death and disease. The large beak also prevented getting too close to the ill person. I suppose this was the 16 th century version of PPE and physical distancing?
As the eligible age to get vaccinated decreased, the amount of anxiety and needle anxiety seemed to increase-even among the tattooed. I tried to be empathetic, but since I know tattooing is painful, I found myself quite often wondering ‘were you unconscious when you got those tattoos?’. A few did lightheartedly comment that they were so drunk or high that they didn’t remember a thing! Travel was my favourite distraction topic. Many of my vaccinees had travel plans, either for real, or in their minds. It is amazing how animated and relaxed one can get while describing a potential vacation.
I was jokingly asked questions like ‘Did you just give me 3G or the microchip?’ and ‘Do you have a magnet I can use to check?’ Some of the more enthusiastic responses include: ‘I can feel the freedom coursing through my veins!’ ‘It feels like I just got my wallet and keys back after being in jail’ ‘Now I can go lick door handles’…my response- ‘Please don’t!’.
One of my most enthusiastic reactions was from a university student-probably a research scientist. She had her eyes closed and an orgasmic look on her face while she took deep breaths and said she was imagining all of the science, research and hard work that was going into her body at that very moment. For some, getting the vaccine was actually anticlimactic….’I endured 15 months of hell for that?’
We had either Pfizer or Moderna vaccine on any given day, depending on the available supply. People often wanted to know which vaccine they would be getting. The most interesting presentation of this question was ‘So, what’s in your candy dish?’ The cutest presentation of this question-which I was asked several times-was ‘Will I be getting the Madonna vaccine?’ I really wanted to respond ‘We only have Lady Gaga on the menu today’, but I don’t think any of them realized what they had said.
In the aftercare area, it was obvious who had seen the TikTok video on how to move your arms and body to decrease vaccine side effects! FYI this does not help at all, but does no harm and some of the moves made me laugh.
A lovely 80ish year old woman expressed her happiness to be getting her second dose as she had ‘been through this all before’. She told me about surviving the Polio epidemic in the early 1950’s and how some of her classmates were not as fortunate. They did not get the new Polio vaccine because their parents were distrustful and afraid. Now Polio is almost eradicated. She hopes everyone will listen to the science!
My cousin sent me this amusing text wondering if I was still giving vaccinations. It was altered by autocorrect! I actually like their version better!
I hope you enjoyed reading my Covid immunization diary notes. I also hope that where you live, vaccines are available and accessible to all. Please get out and get yours ASAP! Remember…..follow the science! As our Provincial Health Officer likes to say ‘Be safe, be calm, be kind’.
Ciao and stay safe, Cristina