A day to remember: London nursing home greets virus vaccine

LONDON (AP): In 1948, John Peake won a silver medal at the Olympic Games in London. In 2021, also in London, he struck what many would consider gold, receiving his first dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

Amid growing concerns over rising COVID outbreaks at nursing homes in Britain, the 96-year-old was one of the 45 residents at Wimbledon Beaumont Care Community in southwest London to receive the vaccine Wednesday developed by the University of Oxford and British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.

“I’m glad to have it and I appreciate the fact that it has come to this place early,” he told The Associated Press after receiving his jab.

Peake was the youngest member of the 1948 British field hockey team that lost 4-0 to India in the final at Wembley Stadium in the first Olympics after World War II.

“I think I’m lucky to have lasted as long as I have,” he said.

Yet Peake, who is one of the oldest surviving Olympians, was not even the oldest to get the shot at the nursing home. That honor went to 102-year-old Joan Potts, who though in a wheelchair and clearly fragile, still had eyes that expressed wonder in the world.

Britain in many ways is leading the vaccination drive around the world. It was the first country to approve and use the vaccine designed by U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech. It was the first to approve the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. It has also approved a third, by Moderna, but that is not expected to arrive until the spring.

Already, around 2.5 million people in Britain have received their first jabs. To get vaccine shots to as many people as quickly as possible, Britain is taking a different path than other nations. Instead of giving people their second vaccine shot within three or four weeks, they will get it within 12 weeks.

The first groups in line are those 80 and over, health care workers, nursing home residents and their caregivers. The British government had aimed for all nursing home residents to have their first jab by the end of the month but doctors are now being urged to go faster, given a recent rise in new infections in nursing homes.

Dr. Jane Allen, who has looked after Wimbledon residents for nearly four decades, was on hand to deliver the jabs.

“I’m certainly glad it’s arrived at last, because perhaps it gives the residents a bit more freedom, they’ve had a very difficult year,” said Allen, who along with her partners were in a rush to vaccinate the nearly 200 nursing home residents over a single day.

Two paramedics arrived with a shiny red bag containing the treasured vaccine doses. Allen visored up and, assisted by nurse Fernando Castillo, ran through the necessary questions: Are you feeling well? What about any allergies? Do you want to take this vaccine against the coronavirus?

As they waited to get their shots, the residents offered glimpses into their personalities and pasts, displaying empathy, humor and resilience.

For some it was a big relief, including gregarious 86-year-old Gwen Nurse, who has just “felt very lonely” over these long months of the pandemic.

“I’m an old lady and it doesn’t matter so much about me, but it does about younger people,” she said.

For others, it was a more prosaic affair.

“I’ve been jabbed many times,” said Ian Hurley, 80, a former policeman who helped create the Crimestoppers phone line and never misses a chance to show off his edgy sense of humor.

“Whatever the case is, I might just walk out of here and cross the road and get run over,” he said.

Some, like Hurley, just rolled up their sleeve and got on with it. For others, it was a more laborious process, requiring reassurance from the doctor. Retired executive secretary Pamela Rahman, 84, was dressed up in her Sunday best, only to find that she was not wearing the easiest clothing for a vaccine shot.

Getting a vaccine shot doesn’t mean that the nursing home residents can go about their lives as they previously did. For starters, it takes 21 days for a measure of immunity to emerge. But it does help lift the fear that they could contract the virus blamed for the deaths of some 85,000 people in the U.K., the vast majority of them over 65.

And how should one end such a memorable day? With a party, of course.

“Our care home was always full of laughter and joy,” said Gayane Selimyan, general manager of the nursing home owned by Barchester Healthcare. “We are very happy and excited and we are going to have a vaccination party today to celebrate.”