Well, yesterday was the big day for me, COVID-19 vaccination-wise. I received my first shot, with my second to come in about three weeks.
Sweden had a bit of a wobble at the beginning of their mass-vaccination programme. Delays in rollout, huge delivery problems and communication failures in the region led to some initial criticism. The use of Astra-Zeneca was stopped, then started, then restricted to the over-65s. At one point it felt like things would never get going.
In the past couple of weeks though, Sweden has been vaccinating 500 000 people a week.
I don’t take the annual flu vaccine, so the last vaccination of this kind that I received was for the swine flu. That time, they were vaccinating people like cattle as they passed through the shopping mall. Swine flu was a public health worry, of course, but nothing like the COVID-19 pandemic. Life carried on as normal if you were an average Joe.
COVID has not been quite the same. The vaccine has brought hope for a normal life again.
I was able to book a vaccine from about two weeks ago. I chose a venue near where we live for the coronavirus vaccine, and I chose yesterday because it was a half-day for me at work.
The venue was nearby, and fifteen minutes before their appointment the public could start queuing – two metres apart – to enter an enormous warehouse-like building in the slaughterhouse district of Stockholm.
Where I was vaccinated, the first station you reached checked that you had an appointment by checking the text on your phone, supplied you with a fresh mask and hand disinfectant, and waved you on.
You then shuffled slowly along to the next station, carefully stepping from one distanced circle to another. This station checked ID and your appointment on a computer.
Then you stepped circle by circle to the next station which told you to take your jacket and any sweaters off, checked your ID again and pointed you towards a numbered chair.
You sat on the numbered chair until the correspondingly numbered cubicle called you. There were 20 cubicles. In the cubicle the nurse took your ID, asked you questions, gave you your jab, and issued a vaccination card. I received Pfizer.
After that you shuffled once again to a huge waiting area where you were given an information leaflet about side effects and the next step. You sat for 15 minutes to wait for any immediate side effects to appear. If they didn’t, you were free to leave.
For me it was the huge scale of the operation that impacted me the most. This was one of the smallest of the 14 Stockholm mass-vaccination centres for people with no risk factors (people with risk factors have to go to their local medical centre). It held hundreds and of silent, masked, shuffling people at a time, with more people arriving in the queues every minute. It was a silent, ominous assembly line with people stepping from one circle on the floor to another. All the personnel inside the building were in full protective gear – visors, plastic gowns, masks and gloves. Bizarrely, there was elevator music breaking the total silence in this vast industrial place.
How our world has changed that this is the new normal. Will we have to do this every year, I wonder?