Across the area served by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, thousands of people every day are being vaccinated against COVID-19. The operation is huge, and the statistics are mind-boggling, but behind every number is a human being – someone who has been waiting for this day, and hoping. We visit one of the 17 community vaccination clinics across Greater Glasgow and Clyde and ask one simple question: “What does it feel like to be part of this?”
The weather at Glasgow Club Donald Dewar in Drumchapel is nasty – thick cloud and heavy snow reducing the world to shades of white and grey. A poor man stands in hi-vis jacket at the entrance, stamping his feet against the chill as he points the way for the steady stream of visitors.
“You’ve really got the short straw here. It must be miserable.” It’s obviously not the first time he’s heard that today.
“No chance, mate. I’m loving it,” he beams, cheeks the kind of apple-red you only see in cartoons. “Best job I’ve had in months.”
Horrible day, horrible virus, months of worry and stress, yet here’s someone grinning from ear to ear and bursting with positivity. Strange.
Well, walking into the centre and through to the sports hall that’s been set up as one of 17 community vaccination centres across Greater Glasgow and Clyde, it quickly becomes clear that’s not so strange after all.
Outside the windows opposite, the wind is still howling and the snow coming down in blankets, but in here, there are smiles, gentle ripples of chatter and laughter, and a real feeling of warmth.
“The atmosphere is really positive and relaxed. Everyone is happy to be here and get vaccinated … they’re just looking for a little bit of hope.”
Pamela McLean, is lead nurse at the clinic today. She’s a senior staff nurse, and like everyone else here, this isn’t her day job. Pamela is normally a community paediatric nurse working at assisted support for learning schools across the city.
“There are nurses, optometrists, pharmacists here. We’ve even got a beauty therapist and a driving instructor booking people in. They’re all working together, friendly and helpful, and there to support each other.”
And that friendliness is rubbing off on the patients – or clients as the team calls them – too.
It’s clear everyone is smiling behind their masks, as they sit for 10 minutes after their vaccination – and everyone has a similar message. Hope.
“Now that I’ve had the vaccine, it feels like I might have a summer again, with family all round about me. Having us all together again would be wonderful,” said Elizabeth Stewart, 67, from Riddrie. Elizabeth has two grandchildren, but she’s been too frightened to see them.
Husband and wife Margaret and Archie Davies, from Drumchapel, came together to be vaccinated, and they’ve had a similar experience.
“I’m just getting bored now – being stuck at home like this. I’ve got four grown-up kids and two grandchildren, girls aged 8 and 5, and I’ve not seen them since December. I hope the vaccine allows us to get back to normal life,” says Margaret, 65, while Archie, 67, adds: “It’s the little things I’m looking forward to, like going to the pub and having a pint with my friends.”
Again, and again, the same worries throughout lockdown, and the same sense of hope now. Seeing family, meeting friends, just getting back to normal.
Some have coped by walking their dog or speaking to family on Zoom, others haven’t fared so well.
Hugh Allan, 69, has had to watch as his wife, who has mobility issues, has become too scared to even leave the house. But even Hugh, from Drumchapel, is feeling optimistic. “She got her vaccine on Saturday so now that we’ve both had the jag, I’m hoping it will make a huge difference to us both.
“The end just can’t some soon enough now.”
Mhari Baumer, 67, from Drumchapel can see some light at the end of the tunnel. “I’m a hairdresser, so these past few months have been difficult. That’s the reason I’m getting the vaccine – to get back to work,” she says.
“Well, not the only one – my first grandchild is due in June. It’s been a wonderful blessing as my daughter is 41, and I’m just praying life is getting back to normal by then.
“Right now, it feels like I’ve been in a bad dream and I keep hoping I’ll wake up. Maybe this vaccine will be the end of it.”
Locum optometrist Ghaith Alnaeme is one of the vaccinators today, and he has been witness to the sense of relief and optimism that flows over people once they’ve been vaccinated.
“At first,” he says, “you can sometimes see that people are nervous, they can be quite abrupt. After all the bad news people are anxious. This has become a really big deal for them.
“But I just talk them through the process, and the second they’ve had their vaccination there’s a complete change in them. They become chatty and really positive.
“In fact, it’s quite humbling how grateful people are. It makes you realise that you’re having a real effect on people’s lives, that we’re contributing and making a difference.”
And, like everyone else here, Ghaith has a final message for anyone who is tempted to ignore their invitation for an appointment, or is uncertain about being vaccinated.
“Just get it done,” he says. “You’ll be so glad you did.”
First year paramedic student Yvonne Docherty, who is one of the healthcare support workers today, adds one final appeal.
“If you get your appointment, go and get your vaccination. No matter how old you are.
“I know some younger people – people my age – who don’t think the vaccine is as important for them, but when it comes to this virus, none of us is safe until all of us are safe.
“It’s important that we all play our part, so when that invitation comes, please, go and get vaccinated.”
Pictured: Mhari Baumer from Drumchapel.