I’ve been feeling April-foolish. You see, whilst the majority of the over-fifties have been vaccinated with no big deal, I manage to sabotage my big day.
Right from the start I’ve been jab-ambivalent, not because I’m an anti-vaxxer or needle-phobic, but more because my default setting is to steer clear from doctors and medicine of any kind. Our family motto is ‘Die or Don’t’ and no one goes near the GP unless wounds are suppurating or joints refuse to pop back into their sockets.
But this is a pandemic and we need to protect the vulnerable by keeping the virus at bay behind the Great Wall of the Vaccinated. Not to mention, this is our passport to freedom. Who knows what slogans might catch on this summer – ‘Have a shot to get a shot’ or ‘Want a vacation? Get a vaccination’? So as a good citizen I sign up online to do my duty.
The process is easy. Just enter a few details. Don’t worry if you haven’t memorised your NHS number or if it was last seen at your maternity appointment in 2005. The computer knows all, and before long, you’re being offered a variety of centres to attend. With fond memories of a Michael Bublé concert I opt for the Sheffield Arena and click on the most convenient dates. Job done. I rush off to spread the good news.
The Nearly-Beloved, being older and wiser, has already got his ticket out of lockdown and is keen to make sure I behave.
‘Arrive on time. Then follow their instructions. You can do that, can’t you?’
I nod enthusiastically. But he’s not convinced so decrees that he’ll accompany me.
The night before, the news headlines are full of vaccine nationalism. The UK’s roll-out is impressive compared to the European Union’s. But we’ve apparently upset our neighbours with the one thing we’ve done well in the pandemic! Despite dissing our Oxford-educated immunisation, there’s talk of blocking exports or re-routing them to Ireland. So, I’m feeling rather smug at already being booked in. I don’t even mind when the Nearly-Beloved talks to me in the voice he reserves for small children.
‘Now just show me your reference number before we set off tomorrow. You don’t want to be that annoying person holding up the queue, do you?’
‘You do have a reference number, don’t you?’
‘In a text message? An email?’
‘Oh, great! Have you done your usual trick of forgetting to click ‘confirm’ before you sign out?’
I phone the helpline in a panic. They can find no record of me. More panic erupts as I find the Arena is no longer available. Within minutes I transform from someone with Astra-Zeneca apathy to a Pfizer fanatic. I need that virus-slayer in my bloodstream now! If my dose is winging its way to Dublin, I must wing my way to the nearest centre.
I scroll down the list – Leeds, York, Manchester. If I could combine these with a trip to the Armouries, Minster or Arndale Centre, then I’d be tempted. But, as the distances increase, my desire for inoculation wanes. Then my eye alights upon Mansfield, a mere eighteen miles’ drive away. It’s never been on my bucket list but today it feels like one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
And it means a road trip – my first jaunt outside the city boundaries in months – albeit to a repurposed Wickes store. Not quite the Bublé of my dreams, but well-organised and efficient. I wave goodbye to my chauffeur as I’m issued with a mask and ushered through a series of checks.
This is where I nearly fall.
‘Do you have any symptoms of Covid?’ asks the uniformed official.
Faced with authority, I question myself. I’m feeling feverish actually and my head does thump slightly.
‘Ermm…’ I say.
But I see the frown on his face and remind myself it’s 22C outside and I’m most likely dehydrated.
‘Do you have your registration number?’ asks volunteer number two.
A small queue forms as I scroll furiously through my phone.
The staff have now clocked me as ‘one to watch out for’ and I’m asked not once but twice to verify my details. Still, it’s third time lucky and, with a minimum of fuss, a kindly nurse jabs me in the arm then presents me with a sticker.
After trying to exit through the entrance, I’m escorted out of the building, back into safe hands.
‘Did it hurt?’ asks the Nearly-Beloved, who suffered from a sore arm and flu-like symptoms when he had his.
‘Not so far,’ I say as I get into the car.
Minutes later, I feel weak and nauseous, and all my muscles ache. Then I realise I’ve been reading the leaflet on side-effects. I’m perfectly fine.
So fine in fact that the Nearly-Beloved rolls up my sleeve to confirm I did actually have the injection. Because, let’s face it, if I hadn’t, then I really would be feeling April foolish.