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Coronavirus: One-year anniversary of vaccines brings ‘mixed bittersweet’ memories for healthcare workers

Sara Fung was emotional when the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine started pouring into Canada last December and again in March when she received her first dose.

When she felt the needle in her arm, the Hamilton area nurse thought of the grandmother she’d lost to COVID-19 nearly a year earlier.

Pandemic restrictions prevented Fung from properly grieving her grandmother’s death when “the family’s glue” died in a Toronto long-term care home in April 2020. Even though the wife is 100 years old. At her age, Fung says she remains healthy and active, and is likely to last a few more years.

“I remember feeling very lucky (to be vaccinated). Really, it was a tribute to my grandmother,” Fung said, holding back tears during a virtual interview. “I was thinking: ‘if this had been available to her, I have no doubt she’s still alive today.”

Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of the first COVID-19 vaccine being used in Canada, a milestone that offers hope for a new year after a dismal 2020.

Fung was not among the high-risk groups prioritized in the early days of rollout, but she and other Canadian health care workers have pondered over the past year as approaches celebrate vaccines. their own.

Fung, who assumes the role of co-leader of infection prevention and control at her hospital, said 2021 is a year of learning more about the virus, which will continue to cause difficulties when it comes to learning more about the virus. New variations appear.

“This year really just emphasizes … that we can never really let our guard down because we don’t know what’s coming,” she said.

Another nurse in the Hamilton area said receiving the first dose in March 2021 was a “happy bittersweet” experience.

Amie Archibald-Varley, who co-hosts the Gritty Nurse podcast with Fung, helped screen patients for COVID-19 early in the pandemic and is relieved to be protected by the vaccine. But like Fung, she’s flooded with difficult memories of sitting down for her stab.

Archibald-Varley was part of the hospital’s essential care partnership program, where she helped establish virtual communication so loved ones of those who died of COVID-19 could say goodbye to loved ones. their.

“Seeing how families interact with each other, it’s hard,” she said. “A lot of their stories have impacted me.”

Little was known about COVID-19 during that phase of the pandemic, adding significant challenges for some healthcare workers. Archibald-Varley recalls scrubbing herself in the garage after checking her shift and telling her children to keep their distance for fear she would infect them.

Such measures have largely been phased out as scientists study more until 2020, but many health care workers continue to distance themselves in public and limit social contact. even when vaccinated.

Both Fung and Archibald-Varley said daily life hasn’t changed much after their first doses – public health restrictions still apply as most Canadians wait for the vaccine’s turn – but The arrival of injections in large numbers in the spring and summer, along with a drop in cases after a violent third wave, led both nurses to hope that the pandemic would end soon.

Archibald-Varley was on the rise recently when her children – 10-year-old twin boys and a six-year-old daughter – received their first stabs.

“It’s more gratifying than getting vaccinated,” she said.

While a vaccine heralds optimism, the threat of the Omicron variant has eclipsed hope for some. Scientists are racing to understand how easily Omicron spreads, whether it causes severe illness and how well it can evade vaccine coverage.

Dr Lynora Saxinger, an infectious disease expert from the University of Alberta, feels “qualified optimism” for 2022, hoping the vaccine will still provide some protection.

“The fact that this variant has emerged and is now found in so many countries tells us this virus has a lot of tricks up its sleeve,” she said.

“But on the other hand, we have more tricks – new treatments, the ability to retool vaccines relatively quickly.”

Saxinger said she was inspired to see more people queuing to get vaccinated throughout 2021, far outnumbering those wary of vaccinations.

She received the first shot in January and the second six weeks later, which helped alleviate the heavy anxiety she had been feeling throughout 2020.

“A lot of people in the healthcare industry have carried this burden of ‘I don’t want to get sick,'” Saxinger said, adding that she didn’t want her colleagues to be understaffed or carry the virus. go home. her family.

“After the second dose, I felt more relaxed. It was less stressful.”

Dr Naheed Dosani, head of medical practice at Kensington Health in Toronto, describes similar relief after getting the vaccine on New Year’s Eve.

He also feels extremely grateful for the rapid development of new mRNA grafts.

“I have been thinking about the power of innovation, science, perseverance and human dedication that has allowed this vaccine to be created in such a short time, in deep collaboration,” he said. spread of people across countries, across continents”.

“On one hand, it’s liquid in a syringe, but it embodies a lot of the things that show why humans are amazing.”

Dosani says receiving her first dose of medicine on the last day of 2020 is especially symbolic, as a happy milestone ushering in the new year.

However, the palliative care professional also thinks about how the population has been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 as he gets his hit, and he hopes for a legacy of Canada’s pandemic experience. would be a commitment to address health care inequities.

“I am celebrating (vaccinations) but also in memory of so many people who have suffered and so many who have died from the virus,” Dosani said. “That continues to motivate me to work to support patients who are dealing with COVID-19 … but also to advocate for better policy across Canada.”

This Canadian Press report was first published on December 14, 2021.

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