Halifax COVID-19 vaccine clinic full of celebration, music and new hairdos

·4 min read
Halifax COVID-19 vaccine clinic full of celebration, music and new hairdos
Bernice Brown, 82, of Halifax, receives her vaccine from registered nurse Allison Milley at the IWK Health Centre on Feb. 22, 2021. Brown was the first senior in Nova Scotia to receive her vaccine in a community-based vaccination clinic. (Communications Nova Scotia - image credit)
Bernice Brown, 82, of Halifax, receives her vaccine from registered nurse Allison Milley at the IWK Health Centre on Feb. 22, 2021. Brown was the first senior in Nova Scotia to receive her vaccine in a community-based vaccination clinic. (Communications Nova Scotia - image credit)

There's been a real sense of joy in Nova Scotia's first community COVID-19 vaccine clinic, complete with chocolates, singing, and poetry.

One might not think a needle could bring so much excitement, but Mary Beth Rowe and Barb Ellesmere have seen it first-hand.

Rowe is a nurse educator in the surgical unit at the IWK Health Centre, while Ellesmere is a registered nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit.

Both were pulled from their regular roles to set up the province's community vaccine clinic for people 80 years and over, which opened last month in the Halifax hospital.

On that first day, Feb. 22, Rowe said everyone coming through the door was so happy to be getting their first dose of vaccine.

For many, she said it was the first outing they'd had in months, if not the entire year. Some women mentioned they had gone to get their hair done and had gotten new outfits for the occasion.

"It was a contagious type of environment, but in a good way because their excitement and gratitude for what they were being offered was just, it was remarkable. It was so heartwarming. I can't say how much I have enjoyed this," Rowe told CBC Radio's Information Morning on Monday.

"The three weeks that we've been open has just been nothing short of amazing."

Ellesmere said there's been a real "party atmosphere" to the space.

She said there have been so many little moments from the clinic that she will carry with her, like hearing one woman singing Teddy Bears' Picnic as the person preparing her vaccine dose joined in on the tune.

Another woman came with a box of chocolates as a thank you for the staff.

There was also one patient — a retired nurse — who Rowe said wrote a poem about COVID and what the last year has been like for her.

The poem touched on many of the province's tragic events in the past year, including the mass shooting, the Cyclone helicopter crash in the Mediterranean, and the case of Dylan Ehler, the three-year-old Truro boy who went missing in 2020 and has not been found.

"She also, at the end of the poem, talked about what it means now with the vaccine and how that is light at the end of a very dark tunnel," Rowe said.

"It's safe to say that it brought pretty much all of us to tears when we read that poem for the first time."

Ellesmere (left) and Rowe were moved from their regular roles within the IWK Health Centre to organize the province's first COVID-19 community vaccine clinic.
Ellesmere (left) and Rowe were moved from their regular roles within the IWK Health Centre to organize the province's first COVID-19 community vaccine clinic.(Ryan Wilson/IWK)

Other community clinics have since opened around the province for people over 80.

Rowe said some of the lessons they've learned through their clinic, which can be applied to others, are around patient flow.

Many people are so eager to receive their vaccine that they show up more than a half-hour early for their appointment, Rowe said, so it's important to have enough space to get everyone inside while physically distancing.

There is also no sign of vaccine hesitancy "whatsoever" in this age group, she said.

In conversations with people coming through the clinic, Rowe said a lot have alluded to the fear they've dealt with during this pandemic, and how they worry about their safety when they go out in public.

That's why they see the vaccine truly as a "new lease on life," Rowe said.

Ellesmere added that launching the clinic and co-ordinating vaccine rollout less than a year after the first presumptive cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Nova Scotia felt like an extraordinary moment.

"We are part of making history and [it's] just so gratifying to be involved with delivering the vaccine and providing some hope, you know, that this pandemic will end," Ellesmere said.

As of Monday, anyone who is 80 or older and was born between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31 can book an appointment online or by calling 1-833-797-7772 to get a vaccine at a community clinic where they live.

Previously, only those 80 and older born between January and April were eligible. Bookings cannot be done in person and walk-ins will be turned away.

Ten community vaccination clinics are set to open across the province by the end of March.

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