The vaccine is finally here, and while the rollout Down Under may be slower than anticipated, thousands of Aussies are now being vaccinated every day. And yet, many of us still have questions about when and how we’ll get our jab. Scanning reports of side effects and complications, obfuscating statistics and colour-coded infographics is enough to make anyone confused, but none of it tells you what it’s really like to get the injection. Two of our writers recently got the jab – here’s what it’s really like.
Divya Venkataraman, food and drink editor
Where: NSW Health Vaccination Centre at Sydney Olympic Park, 1 Figtree Drive, Sydney
Tales of this quasi-mythical place had travelled from Homebush to reach my ears well before I booked in for my vaccine appointment. I’d heard it was gigantic, brand-spanking-new, and above all, ruthlessly efficient. You don’t have to go to a vaccine hub to get your jab – you can book in for a vaccine appointment at some local GPs, at a hospital, or other centres listed here. But I wanted to see what the fuss was all about.
This sterilised medical utopia is about a 40-minute drive from the CBD, depending on the time of day you’re going. You can also take the train or bus. I drove, parked my car in a dedicated facility which is about a ten-minute walk away from the actual hub (there is closer parking for people with accessibility needs).
Following the signs from the car park to the hub is pretty intuitive. Upon arrival, you’re asked to scan the code you’re provided with upon booking in for an appointment. Friendly staff then guide you to a set of machines that spits out a number (like the RTA, or a deli counter. Mmm, cheese). With your number in hand (which, like those other vital functions of society, tells you what your place in the queue is), you are led to a waiting room divided up into different ‘pods’ of socially distanced seating. How futuristic. It’s bright, clean and yes, humongous.
I came armed with two novels, a Sudoku book and the memory of never-ending specialist wait-times. I have never seriously attempted a Sudoku but I figured, given my previous waiting room experiences, I’d have plenty of time on my hands to figure it out. How wrong I was. By the time I’d wasted ten minutes on Instagram, my number was up. Time for some cheese.
My doctor asked me the same questions I’d answered online about my medical history, whether I’d had symptoms recently and whether I was on certain medications. Remember, you can’t get the vaccine if you’ve had another one (the flu vax, for example) any sooner than 14 days before your appointment. Questions done, he gave me the vaccine in my left arm and sent me on my way. It didn’t hurt at all, really.
I was then whisked away (so efficient!) to sit in another ‘pod’ for 15 minutes for ‘monitoring’ in case of a sudden adverse reaction. Feeling absolutely fine, I was then on my way. All in all, I was in the vaccination centre for around 40 minutes. Peanuts.
People experience side effects differently, but I felt almost nothing after getting the vaccine, except for some arm soreness, which was gone by midday. Anecdotally, I’ve heard that the second jab causes more side effects – we’ll see in three weeks when I head in for Round II. Next time, I think I’ll be safe leaving the Soduku book at home.
Stephen A Russell, arts editor
Where: Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre, 1 Convention Centre Pl, South Wharf, Melbourne
When news filtered through that Melbourne would be locking down again, the frosty snap gripping the city chilled that little bit deeper. But as the Thunderdome descended once more, there was one unexpected silver lining glinting through.
All of us need to do our bit to protect each other. There was never any doubt in my mind I’d get vaccinated as soon as possible for this very reason. But as a 40-something guy with no underlying health issues, I’d resigned myself to it being a fairly long wait. And then, all of a sudden, the Victorian government took matters into their own hands, unexpectedly expanding eligibility downwards to scoop up 40-plusers like myself. There’s another imperative for me to get on it. My beloved mum’s locked down half the world away in Scotland. I'm keenly aware that the sooner I get vaccinated, the sooner that pathway home for hugs might open up.
After finally figuring out a fairly confusing government website and locating the hotline to ring, it predictably imploded that self-same night. Undeterred, I called the very next morning and got through, to my great excitement, a buzz only partially dulled by 52 minutes on hold with ear-achingly awful panpipe music.
It was worth it. The loveliest call centre person guided me through the booking process, securing a spot two days later at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, aka Jeff’s Shed. I woke stupidly early that day, like a kid on Christmas morn. Pumped to get my first round, I was crackling with excitable energy. That crisp winter sun seemed to shine a little brighter again, and the shivers slipped away. It helps that the convention centre sits on a tree-lined riverbank next to graceful old tall ship the Polly Woodside. I rocked up a good hour early, and it was a soul-soothing spot to while away the time. An eager beaver, I still headed in 15 minutes early and was pleasantly surprised to find a teeny queue and be ushered in almost immediately. But not before noticing that, despite the official website suggesting otherwise, there was a dedicated lane for walk-ins.
You better believe my public service announcement inclinations kicked in. As I was checked in by an exceedingly friendly front desker, I double-checked that 40-and-up folks could walk right up. In fact, I triple-checked with a health practitioner as I was waved through to the vast stadium like conference space beyond. Filled with row-upon-row of curtained cubicles, it looked for all the world like the old epic sci-fi movies I love a little too much.
Yep, yep, yep was the go from everyone I spoke to: walk-ins for anyone aged 40 and above is permitted in Melbourne. Before I even sat down to wait my turn I’d put the call out on Facebook. When I was called up mere minutes later, the nurse was super friendly, informative and soothing. I really was bouncing like a puppy by this point, so much so she had to remind me to relax and loosen up my left arm (twice) ready for an infinitesimal pinprick, almost entirely unnoticeable. Of course, I had to take a selfie that got added to the Facebook post, then deployed to Instagram and Twitter too. Friends jumped on it. Several strangers did too. That magnified my happiness: all for one, one for all. The irony is not lost on my “come get your jab” tweet is the one and only time I can truly say I’ve gone anywhere close to ‘viral’.
I couldn't believe how impressive, speedy and efficient the set-up was, leaving Jeff’s Shed with a skip in my step, a spring all the more pronounced on witnessing the surreal sight of a person in scrubs playing a jaunty tune on the accordion. Emerging blinking into the sunshine once more, it just reinforced my belief that the frontline folks looking out for us are the biggest, brightest heroes of our age. We all need to collectively step up to honour their service. I can’t wait to get jab number two.