Hope came with the prick of a needle for Margaret Watson.
The 94-year-old became the first Winnipeg care home resident to receive a shot of the COVID-19 vaccine.
"Ouch. Oh my gosh," Watson said, then smiled, seconds after getting her first dose of the vaccine at Oakview Place Monday morning.
Watson said she was surprised when she found out she would be the first Winnipegger, who isn’t a health-care worker, to be immunized.
"I couldn’t believe it because I hadn’t even registered," she said.
"I got quite a surprise."
During the next 28 days, the provincial government plans to inject all personal care home residents in Manitoba with their first dose of the vaccine – if they consent. The plan to roll out the vaccine at all 135 care homes in Manitoba — where 9,384 people live — was announced by Premier Brian Pallister last week.
The first seven facilities to receive vaccines were Oakview Place, Charleswood Care Centre and Tuxedo Villa in Winnipeg; Hillcrest Place in Brandon; Tudor House in Selkirk; St. Paul’s Residence in The Pas; and Boyne Lodge in Carman. Those facilities were chosen using an "evidence-based approach to measure the vulnerability of the site," the province said.
Paramedic Jessi Bittner gave Watson her first of two doses on Monday. She said she’s glad some of Manitoba’s most vulnerable citizens — elderly people in communal-living facilities — are a priority for vaccinations.
"I’m ready to get this pandemic over with, especially here," Bittner said.
"It’s extremely important to have them get it first because of the outbreaks. When one person gets it, it’s so easy to have it spread so fast."
Manitoba has battled deadly outbreaks at numerous long-term care homes throughout the pandemic. Nearly half of the province’s 741 deaths related to COVID-19 have been connected to outbreaks at personal care homes. To date, Oakview Place – where Watson lives – has had 84 cases and 13 deaths.
Changes at the facility to protect staff and residents have been hard on Watson, who said the past 10 months have been "terrible."
"We’ve been in lockup for so long. My phone wasn’t working, and TV, I had trouble with the TV. It’s been awful. I can’t get in touch with my kids because my phone is not connected. I’ll be glad when it’s over," Watson said, adding she misses visiting with her family.
"My daughter usually picks me up and takes me out. I have another granddaughter who has me over to her place sometimes. I just miss seeing people and talking to people."'
Cheryl Taylor, who has received the first dose of the vaccine, is the adult day program co-ordinator at Oakview Place. She said the prospect of returning to normal is exciting for both staff and residents.
"They’ve been in their rooms for months now and I think in a couple weeks, three weeks, when they get the second vaccine, they’ll feel more comfortable. They’ll come out of their rooms. They’ll feel safe… It’s been very overwhelming. It’s been long, stressful, emotional," Taylor said.
"It’s a big relief. I still have to wear my goggles, my glasses, my mask, but I just feel that I’m here for them more. It’s safer for me, safer for them."
The Free Press submitted requests for comment with all seven nursing homes that were made a priority for vaccinations. The only facility to respond was Tudor House in Selkirk, which sent a written statement.
"Our residents, families and staff have spent the past 10 months with anxiety and stress worrying about what they have seen and heard about this awful virus in Canada’s nursing homes," said CEO John Martyniw.
"Hearing the vaccine is coming has really put smiles on residents’, families’ and staff faces and has done a lot to pick up morale and confidence that we can get through this."
Shortly after receiving her first dose, Watson said she was "dizzy." Then she was asked what getting the vaccine means to her.
"It means I’ll be around a little bit longer," she said.
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