SUPER SATURDAY: After an utterly gruelling ordeal, the best moment of a long year

by Colin Campbell

BEING of older vintage I feel about as much attachment to my mobile phone as I do to the kettle, or any other household implement lying around that comes in handy now and again.

My youngest offspring tell me there’s a new Samsung phone in tech stores now that costs a mere £1,400. I think I’ll pass on that one.

So when I picked up my steam age little black phone, which is used only for calls and texts, late on Thursday to do my daily check on whether anyone had contacted me, or tried to, it was a routine gesture I carried out while my thoughts were elsewhere.

But there was a new text there, an excited, interesting text. It was from a close relative in Perth who told me he’d had a call from the NHS which offered him the chance of getting vaccinated 24 hours later, on Friday. He’s a bit older than me so it was probably reasonably close to his time anyway, but he’d expected to receive a letter with a date a week or two ahead.

The chance to get an armful within 24 hours was great good news, particularly with erratic and sometimes confusing reports of delays and glitches in the system and the latest, yesterday, about an upcoming dip in supplies, and the prospect of vaccination delays.

It’s not over till it’s over, is one time honoured saying. And it’s not in you till it’s in you, could be another applied to the vaccine.

So late yesterday afternoon I picked up my steam age phone, not long before six, to give him a call to see how he’d got on. And a few seconds after switching it on a couple of texts came tumbling in. The first was a bank reminder. And the second, well that was when my day changed, my month changed and… my life changed? Well, I do try not do melodrama, but maybe.

It was from the NHS, and because the phone memory was full it was a choppy message with words missing and was, frustratingly, almost incomprehensible. But there were a few words there, and vaccination was one of them. There was also a number to call, which I knew was that of my medical practice. I glanced at the clock. It was ten to six. It doesn’t close till 6pm. The message had been sent at 8.30 in the morning. I hit the buttons.

I got connected via the answering machine. I gave my details, and explained why I was calling.

“Just wait while I check,” said the female voice at the other end.

“Yes, your coronavirus vaccine,” she said a few moments later. “Can you come in tomorrow?”

I scrabbled for a notebook and pen, and wrote down the time. “So that’s tomorrow?” I said, maybe sounding calm, maybe not.

“Yes, tomorrow. We’ll see you then.”

And so on Saturday I’ll go along in the afternoon and get vaccinated.

The realisation of an upcoming Super Saturday was the best moment of the past year. By far.

Some people won’t take the vaccine. Others seem uncertain about it. Some, bafflingly, are unconcerned about when they’ll get it. Each to his or her own. I’d queue all night in a blizzard to get it. For me, it’s simple. What other way is there out of this gruelling, draining, hellish mess of a situation?

I phoned a colleague in rather buoyant form. He told me he’d been hearing on the radio about gaps in vaccination schedules for a range of reasons, such as people declining it or saying they couldn’t be there at a particular time. And if there’s a gap the NHS want it filled. So they scan their lists and hit the phones.

My colleague is the same age as me. Like me, he barely checks his mobile phone. He said he’d be checking it a lot more from now on. If I hadn’t switched on mine when I did I might or probably would have missed that precious spare slot and had to wait further weeks before being vaccinated. That would have been little short of mortifying.

If you’re an older person and usually just leave your phone lying around, as I do, and if you want the vaccine as soon as possible, maybe extra vigilance is required.

The first dose will provide around 70 per cent protection from the virus. That figure seems to me to lack clarity, like so much else in this arduous saga. What it means in more specific terms is that it will, according to the manufacturers and the independent scientists who back them up, provide 100 per cent protection against dying from it or ending up on a respirator. You can still contract it, and it’s believed you can still pass it on. But if you do get it the symptoms will only be mild, and should not require any hospital treatment.

Vaccination will be hugely uplifting after a pretty terrible year. Others can process the experience as they wish. We may still be battered around the head with dire warnings and even with spectacularly gloomy assessments that vaccine or no vaccine, not much has changed. I don’t really get that and as of now I’m not going to bother dwelling on it. There will be no house party celebrations around here tomorrow night, that’s for sure. That’s still for idiots. But after you’ve been vaccinated, things do change, they must change.

End of the beginning, beginning of the end, I don’t know. But it feels like a very big moment indeed.

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