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'Two weeks away from a hug': Mass immunization clinics open to seniors

Dr. Bonnie Henry says the start of mass clinics for seniors and elders on Monday was an exciting day for the province.
Bruce McLean, 91, get his first dose of COVID-19 vaccine at an immunization centre set up at the University of Victoria’s McKinnon Gym. He was one of about 700 people scheduled for vaccination at the clinic on Monday.

There was a sense of relief and optimism for brighter days ahead in the University of Victoria’s McKinnon gym Monday, as vaccinations for the public got underway.

Moira McLean said she was “a little bit teary” watching her 91-year-old father, Bruce McLean, receive his first ­vaccine jab. “I think I’m about two weeks away from a hug,” she said.

Health officials say it takes a couple of weeks for vaccines to provide protection.

McLean’s father was one of 700 people expected to receive a vaccine at the clinic Monday, the first day that it was open to the public.

Non-Indigenous people age 90 and over and Indigenous people 65 and older were eligible for appointments starting ­Monday.

Bruce McLean said it was a relief to get his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

“Before I got this shot, if I was to catch that virus, I’m done for. But now — even in the million-to-one shot that I might catch it — I think I could ­probably survive it,” he said.

The former journalist said his life hasn’t changed that much with the pandemic. He has spent the last year working on a second novel — his first, The Manaña Treehouse, was published last fall. “I’m still trying to write. I spent most of my time alone anyway.”

McLean said he is looking forward to the return of family trips and Sunday dinners with his kids and grandkids when it’s safe.

His daughter is thinking about the day when her 13-year-old twin sons will be able to hug their grandfather again.

The McLeans were in and out of the clinic in about 45 minutes, including a 15-minute wait after receiving the shot, when vaccine recipients are monitored to make sure they are OK.

McLean said he was expecting the jab to hurt, but it was painless and he was feeling good after.

To Richard Meret, watching his parents, Marie and Val Meret, receive their shots felt “like a turning point.”

“I’m just glad to get it and very thankful to get it,” Marie Meret said.

After getting his first immunization, Fred Leigh, 90, said he felt like he could see the start of a recovery from the pandemic. “From here on, I think a lot of things will be a lot better. People will start to travel again. Maybe do more shopping, and see ­family.”

Pamela Richer, who accompanied her 96-year-old mother, Blanche Richer, said she felt relieved, because it was “another step in the right direction towards everyone getting immunized eventually.”

Monday was one of the busiest days at the clinic, which was previously immunizing health care workers, and it was exciting to see some of the most vulnerable people get their shots, said Tia Niedjalski, manager of public health with Island Health.

“A lot of happy folks, a lot of happy tears, a lot of happy immunizers,” she said.

Because the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have to be kept at extremely low temperatures, clinic staff are frequently monitoring the number of appointments and ensuring doses are pulled out of the freezer throughout the day to meet the needs. The vaccine has to be used within hours of thawing, so if there are no-shows during the day and there is leftover vaccine, the clinic can contact people in priority populations to come in, Niedjalski said.

The clinic at UVic can immunize up to 1,400 people per day.

At an immunization clinic at Esquimalt’s Archie Browning Sports Centre, Joan and Don Hepburn, both born in 1930, were celebrating their 69th wedding anniversary by receiving vaccine doses at the same time. They wore complementary shirts to mark the occasion that read “Best wife ever” and “Best husband ever.”

Their daughter, Terry Lisson, said she felt “a huge amount of relief” knowing they would soon have substantial protection to prevent a serious COVID-19 infection.

The couple, who used to have a calendar full of social activities, is looking forward to eventually reconnecting with friends in person and resuming their favourite activities — crib, bridge, darts, poker and music bingo.

“We’re hoping that this is going to change everything, and we get back to some kind of a normal existence in a little while,” Joan Hepburn said.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the start of mass clinics for seniors and elders on Monday was an exciting day for the province.

“It is the start of what is going to be ramped up quickly over the next coming weeks and months to be sure that everybody in British Columbia has access to one of our safe and effective vaccines,” she said.

As of Monday, 409,103 doses have been provided across the province, of which 87,059 are second doses.

Island Health opened six new immunization clinics Monday and will open three more this week. All clinics were running smoothly with no major issues, the health authority said.

Island Health is looking for new clinic locations in the Comox Valley after determining that a health unit initially identified as a clinic was not feasible due to inadequate space and accessibility concerns.

All immunization appointments are being booked at North Island Hospital, Comox Valley campus. No appointments were booked at the Comox Valley Health Unit in Courtenay.

Another location will be added in the region and location information will be shared when available, the health authority said.

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B.C. government website on when and how to book a vaccine appointment