Vaccines give Ontario's oldest people a shot of hope in a lonely pandemic year

They are among the province's oldest residents — and they are proud to be vaccinated. Meet some centenarians who have gotten shots against COVID-19.

'Just live every day as it comes,' says 104-year-old Patricia McSwain

102-year-old Douglas Cochrane is among the centenarians who have been vaccinated against COVID-19. He got his shots a few months ago. 'If I had to do it all over again, I would do it.' (Ana Seara/Sunnybrook Veterans Centre)

Of all the things Patricia McSwain misses, it's choir she misses the most.

The 104-year-old is eager to sing in a group again, not allowed for the past year because of COVID-19. She's got lots in her repertoire, but is especially fond of Noël Coward's 1930s tune Don't Put Your Daughter On The Stage, Mrs. Worthington.

It's stuck with her since she first heard it on the radio, well before she had television. It's a tongue twister of a show tune, but she doesn't miss a word.

"Oh, I love singing!," she said. "Sometimes I sit in my room with the door closed and I sing by myself."

McSwain is newly vaccinated, among the crop of centenarians — those over 100 years old — who have gotten the shots against COVID-19. Statistics Canada estimates there are about 11,500 centenarians in Canada, 3,900 in Ontario alone.

Patricia McSwain is 104-years old. She got her second vaccine dose on Valentine's Day. She did exercises in her room beforehand to warm her arm up for the shot. 'It was like a pin prick. Didn’t bother me at all.' (Submitted by Ruth Green)

McSwain, who turns 105 in May, lives at Riverwood Senior Living, in Alliston, Ont., near Barrie.

She's been passing time over the last year reading books, playing solitaire and taking little naps. She knows there's a lot riding on vaccines.

"I'm just hoping and praying that it's going to help get virus out of the way," she said.

'I'm not wasting time here'

Douglas Cochrane, a 102-year-old veteran, got his shots a few months ago. He lives at Sunnybrook Veterans Centre in Toronto. 

He said the first one gave him less stamina, but had no reaction to the second one. He listed off the names of all the staff who have helped him — from doctors and nurses to the front desk staff. He calls them the "unsung heroes."

Cochrane's life hasn't changed much yet. He's hoping when more people get vaccinated, he can start doing things he's missed, like going to restaurants and seeing family.

"I recommend highly to make sure you stay in line and get the [jab] because it's needed," he said. "The sooner we get it done, the sooner this thing will be over."

He's kept busy watching the stock markets daily and reading five papers online (he acknowledges the past year hasn't had "the best news everyday").

Cochrane is proud of passing the test for his "motor bike", an electric scooter that sits out front of his room and lets him zoom around the halls.

"Everybody's surprised I still keep going the way I do," he said. "I'm not wasting time here. I'm doing something."

'Just live every day as it comes'

Elle Korpela is 99, turning 100 later this year. She too has gotten vaccinated and felt "nothing." Korpela lives at Hoivakoti Nursing Home, a long–term care home at Finlandia Village in Sudbury.

Korpela is looking forward to spring and going outdoors. She admits coffee keeps her going.

"Better than whiskey."

Elle Korpela turns 100 this September. She got a shot in February, calling it 'a very special day.' (Submitted by Amanda Deforge)

Korpela says she takes it day by day, similar to McSwain's mantra for living a long life: "Just live every day as it comes."

She said she doesn't feel any different now than she did 30 or 40 years ago. 

"I sure do love living on the earth," said McSwain.


Haydn Watters is a roving reporter in Ontario, mostly serving the province's local CBC Radio shows. He has worked for the CBC in Halifax, Yellowknife, Ottawa and Toronto, with stints at the politics bureau and entertainment unit. He ran an experimental one-person pop-up bureau for the CBC in Barrie, Ont. You can get in touch at haydn.watters@cbc.ca.