UK medics eye ‘final chapter’ amid mass coronavirus vaccination

Front-line NHS professionals reflect on a year of crisis and their hopes that the new vaccine will end a torturous battle with the virus.

The vaccine's roll-out could mark a watershed moment in efforts to defeat the pandemic, but comes as the UK continues to grapple with one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in Europe [From left: Victoria Neville, Mohammed Abbas Khaki and Sara Otung]
The vaccine's roll-out could mark a watershed moment in efforts to defeat the pandemic, but comes as the UK continues to grapple with one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in Europe [From left: Victoria Neville, Mohammed Abbas Khaki and Sara Otung]

London, United Kingdom – United Kingdom health workers have welcomed the mass immunisation programme against COVID-19 as “the light at the end of the tunnel”.

December 8 – dubbed “V-Day” – marked the beginning of the National Health Service’s (NHS) largest vaccination drive in history.

Medical professionals will be among the first inoculated.

The push comes as the UK continues to grapple with one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in Europe.

More than 65,000 people have died with the virus, a figure that includes hundreds of front-line healthcare workers.

Here, in their own words, medics from across the UK speak of a year of crisis unlike any other in modern history and their hopes for an end to the pandemic.

‘We need to listen to science … vaccines save lives’

Sara Otung, a junior doctor at a hospital in Cardiff, Wales:

[Courtesy: Sara Otung]
You can’t miss the value of health until you see someone fighting for their life. I’m really grateful to be able to help people at that moment, but also for the constant reminder of how precious our health is.

Having that direct contact with COVID-19 patients allows you to see the reality of how deadly this disease can be at its worst.

It has been intense. But seeing what people in different walks of life are doing and the sacrifices they are making really does encourage you to continue playing your part, even when it is difficult.

My hours were extended, we were moved about and things were changed.

I haven’t seen my vulnerable family members, including my mum, since before March because I was treating coronavirus patients before lockdown.

People were inconvenienced, but for me, it was almost like a privilege to have that inconvenience because that’s why I studied medicine – to help people.

I’m really hopeful for the new vaccine, I think it offers the light at the end of the tunnel in what has been a really tough year.

Yes, there will always be fear, and there will always be doubt, but I think we need to listen to science and let our hope go beyond the doubt. Vaccines save lives.

‘You have to tell patients you think they need to be put on a ventilator. You can see the sheer dread in their faces’

Victoria Neville, an intensive care nurse at a hospital in Cheshire, England:

Victoria Neville [Courtesy: Victoria Neville]
I’ve been an NHS nurse for 10 years and COVID is nothing like we have ever experienced before.

Being in intensive care means dealing with the sickest patients you can imagine, so I have dealt with death before.

But what’s been different has been the sheer volume and the detachment of not being allowed to see the patient’s family – to sit with them and explain what’s going on.

And with the patient, you want to be there for them, even in their last moments.

But obviously, with the need to wear PPE, you are holding someone’s hand through gloves and wearing a mask, or visor, as you say goodbye. It takes away the connection.

We knew that we would not be able to save everyone, but we would have liked to have kept deaths down to one every few weeks –  through COVID, there have been days where it has been more like five.

There are horrible moments when you have a patient, and you’re looking at them and can see they’re really tired. They may only be in their 40s, but you look at them and know they are so, so sick.

Sometimes there is nowhere else to go [with treatment] and you have to tell patients you think they need to be put on a ventilator. You can see the sheer dread in their faces.

But the cases that I think are really heart-breaking are the ones where we have had patients who we haven’t decided to ventilate [due to their past medical history]. They’re the ones who end up with their masks on until the end.

This year has been scary. We have all missed out on so much and I’m hoping that next year things might start to settle and we can get back to some sort of normality.

‘Normal coping mechanisms were taken away’

Mohammed Abbas Khaki, an NHS GP and A&E doctor at a hospital in London, England:

Mohammed Abbas Khaki [Courtesy: Mohammed Abbas Khaki]
From the beginning, it was really challenging. We were thrown into this situation and we didn’t know what was happening.

The patients we dealt with were very sick and that was very scary. We also had all these reports of healthcare workers who were from a BAME background being at a higher risk, and we were on the front line dealing with all that too.

You had to split families apart to protect them. You had people who were in their last moments, and you had to ask families not to be with them.

It was physically gruelling, the hours were long, PPE was hard to wear and there wasn’t much of it. We felt exhausted – physically, mentally and emotionally.

Plus, your normal coping mechanisms of going out to see friends and family, going to the cinema or playing sport, all of those were taken away from you.

You couldn’t really tell your friends and family how hard it was, because you didn’t want to make them feel anxious about you.

We are still seeing fallout from it, I don’t think everyone has got through it. We carried ourselves, and we did what we could, yet there are still a huge amount of people within the system who are exhausted and need support.

But the vaccine does feel like the beginning of a new chapter, or maybe the final chapter for COVID-19, hopefully.

It could be a game changer. Things that we took for granted, things that we love so much, could come back.”

Source: Al Jazeera

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