Many elderly and vulnerable people all across the country have been too scared to leave their homes since the start of the pandemic, but the promise of vaccination is giving them some much-needed optimism for the future.

The events of the last year have been particularly bleak for us all, but this has been especially true for the countless elderly residents who have been unable to leave their home for fear of becoming seriously ill – or worse.

Due to being classed as extremely at risk to COVID-19, many pensioners have been cut off from seeing their families and closest friends. Loneliness has historically always been a problem for older people, but being forced to shield themselves away from the outside world during the coronavirus pandemic has only further highlighted the issue. 

Trapped in their own home

Elderly couple Christine and David Lacey, who live with their clinically vulnerable son, haven’t left their house for almost a year. Mrs Lacey described their experiences and hardships under the recent lockdowns as she explained: “We’ve been shielding since last February, so a year, because we are both elderly.

“My husband is nearly 80 and I’m 74, and our son still lives at home with us. He was very ill and had to have his bowel removed several years ago and his immune system is very low, so we have to all be very careful.

“The hardest part of shielding has been independence. We’ve been very lucky; we’ve had a lot of help from our daughter with shopping for essential items, but not everyone has been as fortunate as us.

“We’ve tried to keep some sort of routine so that we can keep busy all day, but it’s hard not to just go out when you want to anymore.

“You know, not to be able to do everything that you always used to be able to do, you take it all for granted. And when you can’t do it, you realise how lucky you were before all this happened.”

A return to normal life

Mr and Mrs Lacey were recently sent letters inviting them to get their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccination, which they received last Saturday (06/02). Although vaccines can take 2-3 weeks to start offering protection, Mrs Lacey spoke about how there had been a sudden positive change in her mental health when she said: “I can definitely say that I feel a lot happier.

“Even though it’s only the first jab, it is nice to feel like we have been given some protection now. The lockdowns and continued isolation have been really stressful for all of us and I can’t wait to eventually get back outside.”

While the couple recognises that life as we knew it won’t return overnight, they are certainly delighted that gradual steps are being taken to allow things to get back to normal safely.

When speaking about what they would like to do in the near-future, once it is safe to leave their house, Mrs Lacey explained: “Well, one of the first things I’d like to do is go and visit my family and my friends, and be able to just go and knock on their door and go into their house and see them. Then they also can come and visit me because nobody has really been in.

“Also, I’d like to be able to go to the shops and really just do what you want to do without being restricted all the time.”

Mr Lacey was also looking forward to seeing others, he added: “I’ll be able to celebrate my 80th birthday with my friends and my family.”

What has a year-long isolation been like?

The full interview with Christine and David Lacey, the elderly couple who have been shielding themselves for almost a year

The ongoing vaccination programme

The UK’s national vaccination programme has been highly successful, with a rapid rollout after being the first country to approve the Pfizer-Biotech vaccine back in December. As it currently stands, more than 12 million people have now had at least their first vaccination dose. The UK is ranked third in the world for the greatest number of vaccinations – only behind Israel and the United Arab Emirates respectively.  

An NHS representative, responsible for the management of the regional vaccination scheme, discussed how beneficial the vaccine will be for the local community (especially for older people with weaker immune systems). They said: “The COVID-19 vaccination is a safe way to build immunity for an individual; vaccines will work with your immune system so it will be ready to fight the virus if you are exposed. 

“By vaccinating as many individuals in our community, as possible we not only help them as individuals, but the virus itself can’t get a foothold and be spread, so we are helping to reduce the risk of all our residents becoming seriously unwell.”

Clarifying how vaccinating alone will not prevent the spread of the virus, they added: “The vaccination will complement our social distancing guidelines but not replace them, we need to ensure we are still sticking to these.

“The vaccination offers the opportunity for our community to build immunity. We hope that restrictions will ease as more and more of the population get vaccinated. 

“The vaccination programme also holds the hope that the repeat cycle of lockdowns easing and then coming back can be broken. Whereas without a vaccine, there could always be a risk of the pandemic flaring up again.”

A huge community effort

Praising the volunteers that staff the vaccinations centres, the NHS representative noted: “It is very much a community effort with help from multiple health and care partners as well as volunteers.

“Over 30,000 local residents have now been vaccinated and the rates of vaccination continues to accelerate. There are around 200 people involved directly in the centres in shift systems in order that they can cover opening 12 hours a day, 7 days a week.

“We are confident we will meet our target as with our centres working to capacity we will be able to vaccinate up to around 1,500 people per day.”

How vaccine centres operate

A brief look inside one of the vaccination centres that is providing lifesaving jabs to the most vulnerable members of society

Who is due to receive the vaccine?

The NHS has split the most vulnerable into various groups, according to their need for the vaccine. The priority of these groups are as follows:

  1. Residents in a care home for older adults and their carers
  2. All those 80 years of age and over and frontline health/social care workers
  3. All those 75 years of age and over
  4. All those 70 years of age and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals
  5. All those aged 65 years of age and over
  6. All individuals aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality.
  7. All those 60 years of age and over
  8. All those 55 years of age and over
  9. All those 50 years and over
  10. The rest of the adult population

The vast majority of members of these first three groups have already received their first dosage, as the government has deemed them to be most at risk to COVID-19. Those who have already gotten an injection are expected to receive their second shot within 12 weeks of their initial appointment, and will be contacted directly by their local GP with further details.

This 12-week timeframe was imposed in order to give the first vaccination dose to as many vulnerable people as possible, giving them at least some protection against coronavirus.

If you are aged 70 or over and have not already been contacted by your GP, the NHS is now currently inviting you to book an appointment – either online or by calling 119.

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