Life, loss and connection: Why I am #TeamVaccines
This is the last ever photo of me and my Dad. It was taken on the 8th of January 2021, just a few hours before he died. He was my north star and my friend. He was (often embarrassingly) proud of my successes and all too regularly accepting of my failures. He had a smile and a kind word for everyone he met, and he died in lockdown, in the midst of this pandemic, not from COVID-19 but from cancer. But there is no doubt that the coronavirus shaped Dad’s last months with us.
He was 86 when he died. His cancer diagnosis was hard to hear but I knew, despite his ridiculously positive attitude, he wouldn’t go on for ever. But it was the impact of COVID-19 that got to me.
Dad had spent his life helping people, connecting with people and in his final weeks and days, the pandemic cut him off from life-long friends, from family, from his grandchildren, even from Mum, after 70 years together. The lockdown meant only I was able to be with him in hospital. His funeral was 9 people, socially distanced, on a cold, grey, Scottish hillside. Even with hundreds of people watching online, it was the antithesis of the life Dad had lived.
This week is a year on since the WHO declared COVID-19 as a pandemic, and in that time everyone I know has been touched in some way by it; losing loved ones, family, friends or colleagues, struggling with isolation and mental health, worrying about job security and financial pressures, juggling home working with home schooling. But also this week, another vaccine that we can use in the fight against COVID-19 has been approved for use in Europe. It is another ray of light at the end of the tunnel, another weapon in our armoury. Working in the industry, I know the science behind vaccines. I know just how much has gone in to ensuring that they are both safe and effective. I know already they are beginning to have an impact. In Scotland, where I live, data from 1.14 million vaccinations, analysed by the University of Edinburgh, showed vaccination has reduced the risk of hospitalisation because of COVID-19 by over 84% after four weeks from the first dose. But it is not just the science, not just the ever-increasing amount of data that makes me excited to get my vaccine, to be a member of #TeamVaccines.
In reality, I know I was luckier than many in the pandemic who faced the loss of loved ones without any chance to say goodbye, to hold their hand, to say anything that they didn’t want left unsaid. My experience is just a tiny microcosm of all our collective experience. We are, at heart, social beings and it is only through vaccination that we can begin to reconnect with people; for our kids to be back in class with their friends, for a handshake or even a hug to become the norm again, to be able to face the difficult moments in life and share the joys, together.
And it is together, by being part of this unprecedented vaccination programme, that we can all play a role in reconnecting with each other. It is what my Dad’s whole life was about and it is why I am #TeamVaccines.