Untold tales of gratitude To the vaccinators, and their support teams, working tirelessly to beat COVID-19: thank you
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/06/2021 (712 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Already, just five days out from receiving my second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, my memory of the event is fragmenting. The key scenes that day still come to mind in vivid moving pictures, but the stitches between them are coming undone. What lingers, then, is the essence of what the experience was.
I remember the lines, the long rows of people, shuffling silently through the vast upper floor of the supersite at RBC Convention Centre. A young man in perfectly tailored black slacks. A mother and daughter. An elderly couple leaning on each other as they spoke to a nurse, on the way to getting their shots.
There was something about that sight that gave me pause. A sense of the strength of the common cause that would bring all these different people to the same place, at the same time, most arriving alone but, in this very literal way, in it together. All moving through the machinery of mass vaccination, all playing their part.
I remember, as I sat in the chair waiting for the shot, looking out through the soaring windows and then up at the ceiling, admiring the way the sculptured white lights curved against the stark black beams. I don’t remember what the vaccination team asked, when they wheeled up to my left arm with their cart.
There was something about that sight that gave me pause.
I do remember that, in response, the only word I could muster was “yep.”
For the rest of my life, I will laugh at how, at the exact moment I played my tiny and final part in the most sweeping public health effort of our generation, the one thing I could think to say, the only thing that made sense in that situation, was “yep.”
In the days that followed, I played that part out in my mind several times. If I could do it over again, I told myself, I would have said something else. I would have thanked the vaccination team. I would have cheered for them, I would have clapped. Somehow, I would have done something to mark the power of the process.
Instead, I did what everyone else around me was doing. I sat there for 15 minutes, texting one friend, turning to smile at another friend sitting behind me. Then, I got up and left. By the time I had made it to the doors my seat was filled by someone else, sitting quietly, their left arm bared and waiting for the shot.
Bodies in, bodies out, one after another. Hundreds at any given moment, adding up into the tens and hundreds of thousands. A multitude of individual acts and decisions piling up in chairs all over the province, until together they have the strength in numbers to beat COVID-19.
This is the battleground we hold against the virus, and that is how I will forever remember it: in glimpses of light and movement, in glimpses of other lives and a sense of shared purpose, unspoken but felt in the low hum that breathed through the room as we inched, one by one, towards our herd immunity target.
There is a beauty in this, and it occurs to me that we have a duty to remember. When life has eventually moved on from the pandemic, this part will be among the least publicly attested. And yet, it is this part that will stand as the turning point, the juncture at which we began not just to live with the virus, but to fight back.
For nearly 17 months, the whole world has been gripped almost completely in the fight against COVID-19, with every pattern of life interrupted or altered and nearly four million lives lost. The best weapons we have against it were forged in laboratories, and are wielded now by teams of vaccinators, wheeling little carts.
Their stories, of course, are well-documented in media and official reports, but photos aren’t allowed in the supersites. The media isn’t either, except for a handful of carefully controlled visits, such as when the province’s chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin vaccinated premier Brian Pallister at the RBC site.
We haven’t heard much from the vaccinators themselves. Even less from those who fill all the critical other roles that keep the supersites and clinics running: the people who review the consent forms, who guide people through the shuffling lines, who sanitize the chairs for the next person to get their dose.
Someday, it will be a story to tell to our children, or their children.
It’s the most momentous public health effort of our generation, and while the facts of its rollout will be saved for posterity, the look of it, the feel of it, the sense of what it was like to join the fight will mostly belong to oral history.
We shouldn’t forget what it felt like to get these doses, at pop-ups or pharmacies or supersites. Someday, it will be a story to tell to our children, or their children. It will be a lesson we can give to them, in what it takes for the world to face something like this. The unity such resistance demands, and the sheer scope of the work.
The work, and the workers. When the vaccinators come around to give out doses, we don’t get to see most of their faces. Only their eyes, if we look, and their hands on our skin. Only the briefest glimpse of the folks doing this work with total commitment and undivided focus and changing our lives for the better.
When the vaccination team wheeled up to give me my shot, the only thing I told them was “yep.” I should have said more. Instead, I offer these words to all the workers who staff vaccination sites all over the province, who give, with each plunge of the syringe, a little bit more hope towards a community that needs it.
Thank you, thank you, thank you. I never saw your full faces at RBC Convention Centre, and I don’t know your names. But for going to work every day, for keeping this thing going, for delivering each of us the weapon we need to push back, hopefully decisively, against COVID-19: I will always remember.
Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.