A few days ago I received a text from my GP surgery inviting me to phone to book a Covid inoculation.  This was simultaneously a delightful surprise and a shock.  Fancy, with the miraculous vaccine barely having reached these shores, being summoned so early.  But might it mean, in addition to being over 80, that they (that’s Boris and co) have me categorised as vulnerable?  Perhaps they mistakenly think I’m already in a care home?   

As a half-full person I decided to consider it an honour to have been selected and dutifully rang the number I’d been given.  A message told me I was 48th in a queue.  Hmm, perhaps I hadn’t been singled out in quite the way I’d imagined; not such a honour after all.  After an hour and a half a woman answered the phone and my slot was booked.  I had to report to the Vaccination Centre at Ebenezer House in Lambeth at 1240.

I knew I’d found the right place because half a dozen masked, senior citizens were queuing outside.  This was a disappointment, especially as I had been expecting to be greeted by a media scrum and television cameras .  Feeling a little self conscious, I dutifully joined the queue.  I scrutinised my colleagues: a blind man leaning on a zimmer frame, a man who hurriedly explained that he was holding a place for his wife who was sitting in the car because she couldn’t stand for long periods, an old man in a wheel chair with an oxygen cylinder, and immediately behind me an ancient man being held upright by his daughter.  After a while, she noticed she’d left her car window open and asked her father if it was OK to leave him for a moment so that she could pop over and close it. He grunted, but the moment she released him he sagged sideways, like a listing container ship whose cargo had shifted.  I readied myself to come to the rescue but his daughter returned in the nick of time and pushed him upright.

We waited outside in a flurry of rain with people calling for chairs to sit on and a young man on ‘meet-and-greet’ duties explaining that all the chairs were needed for people inside and apologising profusely for the delay.

Once through the front door (one of those that kept opening automatically when anyone got too close), a narrow corridor made social distancing impossible.  My temperature was taken by one of those things they point at your forehead (always reminds me of those stun guns they use in abattoirs).  A lady filled in a form with my name and address.  I was half expecting to be sent away but providing my date of birth worked some sort of magic and I was admitted, clutching my form, to a waiting area. I sat there surveying the scene feeling and increasingly like an imposter.  Everyone was frail and most were accompanied by carers.  The least anyone had was a walking stick.

Eventually I was ushered into a cubicle where a young man, conspicuously young, clad in PPE, took my form and asked me some questions.  I answered them truthfully and it was only when he said, ‘Congratulations, you qualify to have the vaccine’ that it dawned on me that I could have failed and been sent home empty armed.

The jab was nothing, I hardly felt the prick, and I was issued with a card admitting me to the club of vaccinated persons and confirming the date of my second inoculation three weeks hence.  I had to wait 15 minutes in a recovery area where, despite lots of people in wheel chairs, there were no available seats.  I stood, no longer feeling an imposter, before being allowed to leave.  It had been grey and spitting with rain when I went in but I stepped outside to be greeted by a clear blue sky and bright sunshine.  Perhaps an unreported side effect of having the vaccine?

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