When nurse Chiara Gelli moved from Queensland to the UK with her partner in December 2019, she couldn’t have known the coronavirus pandemic would turn her life upside down in a matter of months.
Key points:Some Australian essential workers overseas have been vaccinated for COVID-19They say it was a smooth process and they have had no adverse reactionsMore than 40 countries have begun administering COVID-19 vaccines
“My initial plan was to travel around and work here and there, just picking up shifts,” the 25-year-old told the ABC.
“When we first moved here, the pandemic barely even started. We had no idea it was going to be what it is.
“It just flipped my whole year on its head. All the plans we had just got pretty much thrown out the window.”
The UK soon became an epicentre of coronavirus in Europe; more than 80,000 people have died in Britain, the fifth-highest official death toll in the world, and it’s estimated one in 50 people have been infected with the virus.
Ms Gelli works as an emergency nurse in the UK.(Supplied: Chiara Gelli)
But Ms Gelli didn’t hesitate to put her hand up to join an emergency department in the north-east of England to fight the virus.
“[It] is a really amazing thing to be a part of, even though it’s incredibly hard. You learn so much from it,” she said.
“It makes a really strong bond between you and your workmates.”
The UK has since become the first country to approve vaccines developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.
As a frontline worker, Ms Gelli was among the first wave of people to receive the Pfizer injection.
Ms Gelli receives a vaccination card after getting her first dose on Christmas eve.(Supplied: Chiara Gelli)
She said it was normal for many health workers to be vaccinated at her hospital and it was a smooth process.
“[The nurse] had to handle the vaccine in a very delicate manner, they’re not allowed to handle the vaccine with sudden movements, shaking or tapping,” Ms Gelli said.
“But the whole process was easy. It was literally just like getting any other vaccine.
“I didn’t feel sick or anything, I went to work the next day on Christmas.”
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The British Government has recently been under fire for delaying second doses of the Pfizer vaccine, saying it wanted to give as many people as possible just the first shot now, citing a supply issue.
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Ms Gelli said she was due for her second shot last week, but she recently received an email from the National Health Service (NHS) saying the window had been extended to up to 12 weeks under the latest national guidance.
“The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is confident 12 weeks is a reasonable dosing interval to achieve good longer-term protection,” the email read.
“At the start it concerned me,” Ms Gelli said.
“They reckon it is acceptable to have the second dose within the 12-week time frame since having the first dose.
“Don’t know how true that is but we will see.”
This month, BioNTech and partner Pfizer said “there is no data to demonstrate that protection after the first dose is sustained after 21 days”, according to Reuters.
Despite that, Ms Gelli said she was grateful to be part of the vaccination program.
“It was a bit of a Christmas present,” she said.
“I think they’re still finding some more stuff out as we go through it, but I’m happy to be the guinea pig to be honest.”
So far, Britain has given some 2 million people a COVID-19 vaccination and is aiming to vaccinate about 14 million people by mid-February.
Vaccination centres have begun opening in the UK.(AP: Scott Heppell)Faith outweighs hesitancy
Across the pond, Alison Kirkpatrick, an occupational therapist at a trauma hospital in Dallas, Texas, is now fully vaccinated.
She said her hospital was the first in North Dallas to receive the Pfizer vaccine and 75 per cent of the employees were now vaccinated.
Ms Kirkpatrick says she hasn’t had any adverse reactions apart from a sore arm for a day.(Supplied: Alison Kirkpatrick)
Ms Kirkpatrick, who is a dual US-Australian citizen, said she was warned about some minimal side effects when it came to the second dose.
“There may be things like fatigue, muscle aches, soreness, a fever, and things like that,” she said.
“I was a little bit more worried for the second jab, but honestly, I didn’t have any reactions at all to either of them.”
Although there are some reports of people having severe allergic reactions afterwards, that didn’t deter her.
She sought peace of mind by educating herself.
“I had done a lot of research before I volunteered to receive it,” Ms Kirkpatrick said.
“I’ve read up a lot about the theory of the messenger RNA (mRNA), and the process of how the vaccine was supposed to work, because a lot of people are scared of a new vaccine.”
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The US has been hit hard by the pandemic, with more than 4,000 deaths recorded within just 24 hours a week ago.
For Ms Kirkpatrick, being a health worker meant having close to no social life at all, along with countless periods of self-isolation to protect others from potential COVID-19 exposure.
“All the people that I work with were very protective, we stay in a very small circle,” she said.
“We have probably socially isolated more than anybody else in the country because of the type of work that we do.
“I run marathons when I’m not working, [but] I’ve been hesitant to go out and go to a running group or a training group since I’ve been working in the hospital.”
Ms Kirkpatrick said she hoped getting vaccinated would bring her one step closer to a normal life.
“I’m looking forward to just being able to maybe go out and have a meal at a restaurant … maybe go to the supermarket when it’s not the crack of dawn, and nobody else is there,” she said.
Ms Kirkpatrick says she looks forward to hopefully being more social in a few weeks.(Supplied: Alison Kirkpatrick)A different approach
While more than 40 countries have begun administering COVID-19 vaccines, Australia is yet to begin its rollout.
Last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison brought forward the rollout of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to mid-to-late February from March, with a target of inoculating 4 million people by the end of March.
But for some Australians stranded overseas like Richard Anese, that can’t come soon enough.
Mr Anese is a former aircrew member who is currently stuck in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
He volunteered in a trial program for the Chinese vaccine developed by Sinopharm in August last year.
Richard Anese says he feels privileged to have been a volunteer in a vaccine trial.(Supplied: Richard Anese)
“I just thought when all your decisions are taken away from you … it’s just so important for yourself to actually be able to make just even one,” the 57-year-old originally from Sydney told the ABC.
“I also wanted to contribute my small part to humanity.”
The UAE’s National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority said on Monday the country had achieved a vaccine distribution rate of 11.8 doses per 100 people, which is just second behind Israel globally.
Mr Anese says the vaccination initiative in the UAE is impressive in both resourcing and scale.(Supplied: Richard Anese)
Mr Anese said he thought Western countries could learn from the UAE when it came to the vaccine rollout.
“This was due to a nationalised approach, the uptake and the compliance level was incredibly high as a result,” he said.
“I think [the vaccination] should have been mandated in the first instance, there shouldn’t have been any delay with that [in Australia].”
Others like Ms Kirkpatrick saw the merits of both approaches.
“Here in the US … we can’t afford the time to wait,” she said.
“On the other hand, [Australia] can afford to be hesitant because of the way they’ve managed it in the first place.”
For Ms Gelli, she said she hoped being vaccinated would get her home sooner.
“Naturally, I just want to come home, I’m a big home girl and I’m not one for cold weather,” she said.
“My message is don’t be scared to get the vaccine at all. I am the living proof that it’s perfectly fine.”
The ABC asked the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) whether being vaccinated would speed up the process for Australians looking to return from overseas.
“At this time, vaccination against COVID-19 does not change the mandatory 14-day quarantine for travellers to Australia at designated facilities in the first port of arrival,” DFAT said in a statement.
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