We The Peoples
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We The Peoples

A shot of hope

I was lucky enough to get vaccinated. It’s a privilege most people around the world are yet to have. My history of breast cancer, now in remission, meant I was in a priority group of vulnerable patients here in the US. I must say I never thought I’d see an upside of that diagnosis.

I was apprehensive at first. As a cancer survivor, I’m not exactly a fan of hospitals. The last time I attended one on a regular basis was for my stint of 25 radiotherapy treatments and I associate them with an atmosphere of cold dread. Since then, I’ve been doing my best to avoid getting sick.

But stepping into Brooklyn’s Wyckoff hospital, the epicenter of New York’s catastrophic first wave, for my first dose a few weeks back, all of that melted away. Something in the way the receptionist smiled said this was different kind of hospital visit and I suddenly felt totally elated.

Waiting for the shot it felt like the weight of an anxious year was beginning to lift. It’s not been easy spending hours every day for my work obsessing over case numbers and death rates or the pandemic’s wider impact. Here at last was a respite. I was being treated to a small — and very personal — shot of hope.

Getting my second dose a few weeks later, the nurse, Christina Kirk, said being assigned to vaccine duty felt like a day off, even if it meant giving 100 doses a day. A veteran of the first wave, her work has moved on from that desperate time and is now full of hope, giving patients a new lease of life.

The jabs were over in a few seconds, but days later I’m still giddy with gratitude and relief. During these past months I’ll admit I could barely wait for my husband and my parents to get their turns. I wanted so badly for us to be safe, and together. That’s a longing most people out there are still feeling.

We lucky ones can celebrate, and it is only right to do so — vaccinated, we are protecting our communities too. But my work focuses now on those still waiting their turn. People everywhere are frustrated and losing patience with this endless confinement. I want to tell all of you out there: Stay strong, hold on, we’re working on it.

Jab for jab, arm for arm, the situation is changing. Every vaccination means a little less fear in the world. Every dose is another person no longer obsessing over every minor cough or headache. Every jab another mind eased of the background fear of long COVID, or even an untimely death.

Vial by vial, we can think about drawing closer to one another again. Each dose delivered means one less person anxious in public or worrying about endangering their loved ones. Each jab brings another separated family closer to a longed-for reunion, means another person can smile behind their mask.

Recently I spoke to United Nations staff around the world, many in countries where there is still no vaccine in sight, or where officials deny that COVID even exists. The UN is committed to get a vaccine to all colleagues that want one by the end of the year, focusing on our frontline workers first. I wish that could be sooner.

Deep down we all know this won’t be over until we’re all safe. But we cannot just focus on our own relief, or worry when our turn will come. Of the more than 225 million vaccine doses given so far, the vast majority have been in a fraction of mostly wealthy nations. That’s just not going to cut it.

The truth is that all of us, vaccinated or not, are still in this together. As long as the virus is circulating and mutating, this is a global crisis needing a global response. We are making progress. The global COVAX platform has so far provided 30 million doses to 50 countries around the world. It is on track to deliver 300 million more by the end of June, but vaccine supply is not meeting demand.

We must celebrate the scientific wonder of these vaccines while recognizing there’s still a long road ahead until we can declare an end to the pandemic. The fortunate, the already vaccinated, can show solidarity with the rest by supporting COVAX to roll-out the vaccines further and faster. We need to act on the premise that every shot in every arm brings us all closer to returning to the people and the places we love.

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Melissa Fleming

Chief Communicator #UnitedNations promoting a peaceful, sustainable, just & humane world. Author: A Hope More Powerful than the Sea. Podcast: Awake at Night.