As I See It: Catherine Drea’s fortnightly column as published in the Waterford News & Star
I AM old enough to remember a polio scare in the 1950s. The first new case during that decade was in Waterford in 1956, closely followed by an epidemic of cases in Cork with some spread around the rest of the country over those years.
Polio along with TB and all the common childhood illnesses could be deadly killers of children and I can only imagine the fear when one of these diseases was on the loose. Polio caused paralysis and I remember small children in leg splints called callipers, while one of my contemporaries was permanently disabled by the disease.
I’m not sure where or when it was, but eventually we were all vaccinated in a community hall with a huge table down the centre. This hall was actually a mass vaccination centre of its day. The long table was covered in little white sugar lumps and the polio vaccine was on each sugary lump. I can only imagine how happy my parents were to get to that centre. Everyone got an ice-cream after it was over, but best of all there was no injection.
‘While I would have preferred Pfizer, it’s like this, if a woman falls off the Titanic and is offered a spot in a lifeboat, she hardly says, no, I’m grand, I’ll wait for a better one’
This was on my mind when I realised that my age group, 60-69 would be going to the WIT Arena for our Covid-19 vaccinations. For whatever reason our local GPs were not to deliver our vaccines and we would all be given the AstraZeneca shot there instead. Of course I read everything about AstraZeneca and while I would have preferred Pfizer, I was thrilled to have an opportunity at last to get anything. It’s like this, if a woman falls off the Titanic and is offered a spot in a lifeboat, she hardly says, no I’m grand I’ll wait for a better one.
So by the time my appointment arrived by text from a UK number, plenty of friends, even older ones, were still waiting for theirs. No one could figure out how we were prioritised or what logic there was to the order of things. Over the last week as the GPs finished up the other cohorts, people in their 50s were being called to the cosier surrounds of their GP practice for a vaccine. Pfizer of course. Hard to figure. But there’s all sorts of chat and gossip about who got what and where!
Meanwhile, by all reports the first day at the WIT Arena was a bit chaotic. Some friends had to queue outside and others were there for almost two hours. I was hoping this was just first day teething problems.
Finally the big day came. I took no chances, made a packed lunch and took the advice of someone who warned me to bring my own water. (There is none available at the site.)
There was no queue outside at all. Inside was a very orderly calm atmosphere with no delays and the whole process was completed within 20 minutes plus 15 minutes waiting time afterwards.
Himself who is very well up on matters of space and ventilation was happy to see the emergency exit doors were open allowing a cool breeze to clear the air. It is a perfect location really and we felt very privileged to be there.
I was asked at each staging post along the way to the vaccination booth, if I was happy to consent to the AstraZeneca Vaccine? Each time I assured them that I was happy. Each time I consented, but if I had a choice I would probably have preferred the other one! (There is no choice so I kept my mouth shut and said thank you very much).
I chatted with the nurse and told her all about the polio vaccination programme I was part of as a child and how successful it was. The jab was grand although my arm knew about it immediately. She warned me about the side effects and I was given a couple of leaflets.
We were delira with ourselves afterwards and I admit I forgot completely about possible side effects until late that night when I was suddenly hit by a train. I was prepared for flu-like symptoms but had forgotten just how rotten flu-like symptoms actually are. We both experienced very high temperatures, shivering and being generally flattened.
I followed orders and took paracetamol through the worst of it. It passed over a couple of days and all is back to normal again now. Watching what is going on in India, we can only count our blessings to be living where at last things seem to be getting under better control.
In the 1950s there was panic as polio spread. It’s an eerie feeling to be living through the eradication of another disease. It reminds us how interdependent we are on each other to be fully healthy.
Catherine Drea blogs at Foxglovelane.com