Injecting Hope

cover image: Tourists visiting Venice during summer 2020 – could the city return back to “normal” soon?

How will vaccines shape our everyday lives after the pandemic experience of lockdowns, social distancing and curfews? As in most European countries, Italy has already made vaccines available to frontline healthcare workers. Pandemic Academic talked to Barbara, who works as a nurse in Mirano, Veneto.

PA: How was work in the covid ward during the last weeks?

Work really started to change significantly and became quite heavy at the end of October when cases increased a lot, not just in our region but all over Italy. Consequently, the workload is really at the limit, in terms of the amount of care we can provide, and still it keeps rising – not just in the hospital where I am working but everywhere. The numbers of covid cases within the medical staff were also rising, so that there was a significant drop – within a very short time – in hospital workers available for our shifts as they would have to stay at home. Work has been immensely challenging, not only physically but also mentally. Given that our profession is to take care of people -not only when one is sick, a lot of our practice requires physical contact with the patients, and a lot of information is transmitted through body language – by seeing the eyes or the smile, hearing their voices. Wearing a mask and complete protective gear changes a lot. That means not only our direct interaction with covid patients was affected, but it was also a completely new experience to work with all the other patients. It is a barrier that sometimes is very difficult to overcome. It is also very evident that patients are more fragile than usual without the support of their family members.

Another psychological fear for us medical personnel was to transmit this virus at home, in our families and to those who are close to us. This was a harsh emotional challenge because in a context like this we had to constantly think about who would take care of us workers, physically but also mentally. Even though the front desk offered us psychological support, only a few made use of it: there is still a strong barrier for many people to approach such help, let alone asking for it. There was a lot of discomfort and sadness within our team, physical and psychological tiredness – often someone would cry. 

That is why we are extremely looking forward to a change, even though it is clear we will never arrive at whatever we called “normal” before. But it will be interesting to see in the next few weeks whether things will improve. 

PA: Let’s talk about the vaccine. You have received a shot recently, the one which is manufactured by Pfizer that is currently distributed for medical staff in Italy. You had also mentioned before that there was a delay in the appointment when you were supposed to get the vaccine. 

I was supposed to get the vaccine on December 27th, but then there was a slight delay and I got it on January 2nd. They probably had to vaccinate doctors first. However, when I finally received it, that was really a liberation, a light at the end of the tunnel, even though now everyone has to receive the second shot within 21 days after the first vaccine. Therefore, within the near future, there is hope for a lot of change. Especially as many hospital staff members in our region are currently being vaccinated, the number of covid contractions could be significantly limited. Unfortunately, there are – I hope only a few – colleagues who are hesitating to get vaccinated or even have decided not to do it at all. It seems to me that they do not understand the gravity of the situation that makes it, if you ask me, obligatory to get vaccinated as soon as possible – not just for ourselves, but also for our community. Especially within the rows of us healthcare workers, it is fundamental to bring down the number of cases and to prevent the further spread. 

With regards to the national vaccination plan, this gets updated regularly according to the amount of doses available, and each region has its own detailed model of the vaccination. To undergo this vaccination drive, specialised nurses are dedicated to conduct these tasks. There has even been an extra hiring of nurses, and many volunteers help out at the moment to get as many people as possible vaccinated in a very short time. The order of who gets the first shots is scheduled in the following way: first, medical staff members of hospitals – everyone from technical to administrative to professional staff. The vaccinations are not taking place somewhere outside the hospital but indoors, in a very well defined space within the hospital presidium. Afterwards, everyone living in old age homes will become eligible for vaccinations, along with medical staff working for ambulant emergency services, as well as general practitioners and care personnel supporting people in need at home. Those will be followed by members of other essential roles, such as the police, firefighters, public transport, pharmacists, blood donors, teachers, post officers, prison personnel, as well as people affected by chronic diseases. That means, we are probably talking months until the general public will receive their doses. Which categories will be applied to define a vaccine schedule for everyone else, will be decided on the national level. It will most likely take until the beginning of autumn. Of course, these dates also depend on whether there will be other vaccines available, for example also the one produced by ReiThera in Italy which would not require a second shot. 

Our vaccination in the region could therefore probably be seen as a test run for a larger campaign within the broader population. 

PA: How do you think this will influence your work? 

It sounds very brutal, but it seemed that we needed the pandemic experience to make us aware of how to work safer. We learned how to protect ourselves in the most efficient way. Let’s hope we will not forget that too soon, to wear all our protective gear like the mask, gloves etc. With this vaccine, it will now also be safer to interact with our patients, not just in the work context, but also for our families. I miss it a lot to eat together with my colleagues, to give hugs, to simply be together, and the vaccine allows us to return to a more ‘normalised’ routine of our lives – keeping in mind that we should always be on alert.

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