'Ignore anti-vaxxers, this jab is a triumphant moment in battle with a terrible virus'

Clinical nurse manager Bernie Waterhouse gets the second vaccine dose

David Shaw

Mr X, a man in his sixties who was otherwise healthy for his age, did not believe that Covid-19 would affect him personally.

Sure, he acknowledged that the virus was real but he was angry at the lockdowns and resentful that his once-normal way of life had been transformed into an unpleasant experience, replete with endless restrictions.

He continued to act as if the storm had passed. He refused to wear a mask and he continued to socialise.

"It won't happen to me," he thought, fully displaying the cognitive bias known as optimism bias.

It all began with a dry cough. "It'll pass. Winter is upon us and the dry air irritates my sinuses."

But it would not go away. Instead, the dry cough became a heaviness in the chest. Breathless, Mr X began gasping faster and faster.

His lips turned blue and fear washed over his body as sweat descended from his brow. No matter how much he pulled air into his lungs, he felt like he was suffocating.

Now his chest burned with each heaving breath.

Denial gave way to reality: "Take me to the hospital."

It was not long before Mr X was intubated and placed on a ventilator.


His chest X-ray looked like a violent snowstorm, with white patches taking the place of the normally black air-filled spaces. Tubes were inserted into every orifice and painful cannulas were placed in his neck and his wrist to administer medications and monitor vital parameters.

Despite applying the latest evidence-based practice, Mr X took a turn for the worse. Another victim of this terrible pandemic.

I am a junior anaesthetist and intensive care doctor working on the frontline. Multiple times a day, I don the cumbersome personal protective equipment (PPE) - the last stand I have against this horrible pathogen.

Every time I encounter such a patient, either to examine them or to perform a procedure on them, I elevate my risk of acquiring the infection. It is anxiety-provoking and exhausting.

However, I experienced a glimmer of hope last week when I received the first dose of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine - a truly triumphant moment for science over this pandemic.

This vaccine uses a small piece of messenger RNA - the molecule that provides the instructions for how to assemble a protein - inserted into a lipid molecule.

Once injected, the lipid molecules bind to our cells and release the messenger RNA into the cell. Following this, the messenger RNA is read by our cell's protein-making machinery, leading to the production of the coronavirus spike protein.

This protein is then exposed to our immune cells, resulting in the production of antibodies (and immune memory) against the spike protein.

If all goes well, should the real virus enter our bodies, our immune systems already know what to look for and know how to defeat it.

Vaccines are akin to a sports team training before the big match day; they allow the immune system to practise before encountering the opposition, much like a rugby team runs through training drills and rehearses their playbook before they encounter their rivals.

It is extremely important to highlight that this vaccine does not contain the live Covid-19 virus; this vaccine cannot give you Covid-19.

It represents a truly ingenious counterstrike by the scientific community.

But despite the well-documented vaccine efficacy across age-groups, sexes, different ethnicities and individuals with coexisting medical conditions, there is a large and loud troupe of anti-vaxxers hell-bent on pushing nefarious misinformation.

After I had received my jab, I experienced no immediate side effects and continued to work. It did not hurt when I received the vaccine and in the following days, the only side effect I experienced was a very mild discomfort at the injection site.


What I got in return is the peace of mind that I am doing everything I can to prevent this virulent entity from infecting my body and infecting others around me, as well as taking steps towards returning to normality.

This does not mean that I will stop wearing PPE or flout the lockdown rules - on the contrary, there is no guarantee that I will be 100pc protected from Covid-19.

Human beings are variable in many respects - our faces, eye colour, personalities and also our immune systems.

Not everyone will behave in the same way. To make matters more complicated, the virus itself is a dynamic entity, able to mutate.

Precautions still need to be taken - but I will sleep easier knowing that I have reduced my risk by receiving this jab.

Life is about reasoning under uncertainty. Everything we do involves risk, whether it be driving a car, boarding a plane or shopping during the pandemic.

In medicine, we are taught that there is no effect without side effect - paracetamol, for example, can render a headache more manageable but there is a risk that it damages your liver. In most instances, we perform simple cost-benefit analyses.

In this case, the benefits clearly outweigh any associated costs or harms.

I would encourage everyone to receive their vaccine when the opportunity arises.

This will not be the panacea we all hope for, but will go some way towards bringing back our cherished normal way of life.

The unsung heroes of this pandemic have been the amazing nurses who spend prolonged periods of time in high-risk environments caring for Covid-19 patients.

I am deeply grateful to them for all their help and support. We owe it to them to do everything we can to prevent this disease. It is not too late.

Humanity has faced countless challenges in our collective history. We will get through this but it will require buy-in from society at large. These vaccines take us one step closer to victory over this pandemic.

I hope this inspires others to take up the life-saving jabs as the vaccine becomes more widely available.