They can't hug yet, but this Hamilton doctor was able to vaccinate his own mother

Dr. Michael Gallea hasn't been able to hug his mother since last March. But as Hamilton rang in the new year, Gallea touched his mother's arm to give her the COVID-19 vaccine.

Vaccine provides physician with some relief over concern for his loved one

Dr. Michael Gallea vaccinated his mom, Jennifer Krueger, on Jan. 1, 2021. Gallea works at the COVID-19 assessment centre, and Krueger works in a long-term care home. They still haven't hugged. (Submitted by Dr. Michael Gallea)

Dr. Michael Gallea hasn't been able to hug his mother since last March. But as Hamilton rang in the new year, Gallea touched her arm to give his loved one her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

"She's given me so much throughout my whole life, and to give back to her at a time like this meant so much to me and to her," he said.

His mother, Jennifer Krueger, works in long-term care as a volunteer coordinator at Macassa Lodge in Hamilton, and has been taking on more tasks since start of the pandemic. Gallea is a family physician who tests patients at the COVID-19 assessment centre.

Gallea said the family was excited to hear that Krueger would be vaccinated on New Year's Day.

'It meant so many things'

But it was also the closest he had come to his mother since the pandemic began.

"It meant so many things and continues to mean so many things," he said. "I thought about giving her a hug after the vaccine...but I really stuck to just touching her arm, so having that bit of contact was very special and meaningful."

Also special, the doctor said, was the knowledge that he was physically giving his mom protection against the virus.

Gallea wasn't scheduled to work at the vaccine clinic that day. He had put his name forward to fill a shift, but the clinic had already received plenty of interest from other health-care workers to work that day. 

When another doctor dropped out, Gallea took the spot. Krueger was one of his first patients who received their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Doctor hopes to help those wary about shot

Gallea says he's worried not only for his mother's health, but how the virus has impacted long-term care workplaces. This includes the stress endured by staff.Though the vaccine gives him "peace of mind" when it comes to her safety, he said, the concerns and chaos of her workplace haven't changed.

"I know it's still a lot of really hard, emotionally draining, complicated work that she and her colleagues are doing," he said. 

An outbreak was declared at Macassa Lodge on Jan. 1, says the City of Hamilton. Twelve people have the virus, the city says, including nine residents and three staff as of Jan. 5.

As information circulates about the safety of the vaccine, Gallea hopes this moment shows that he places enough trust in the vaccine to administer it to his own mother. 

More long-term care vaccinations planned

"I understand people being wary of the process that has brought us here, and being tired of the pandemic and angry at the pandemic, and not wanting to deal with or talk about any part of that process, including vaccines," he said. "But I'm really hoping that sharing our story will encourage people to get vaccinated when it's their time." 

The City of Hamilton's medical officer of health, Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, says 2,200 vaccines have been administered across the city.

"They're seeing about 250 long-term care home workers per day and are planning to have that up to 500 per day this week," she said in a Monday media briefing. 

As of next week, she said, the goal is that a 12-hour, seven-days-a-week clinic will see more than 1,000 people daily. 

More than 50,000 doses administered in Ontario

The province says 50,495 doses have been administered across Ontario as of 8 p.m. on Monday, with 117 total vaccinations complete. 

The province says around 50,000 doses have been administered in Ontario, and 117 people have been completely vaccinated.

Richardson said the provincial government has changed its policy because of a steadier supply of the vaccines, meaning the city is no longer holding on to the doses.

People who had the first vaccine appointments back on Dec. 23 will start to get their second doses next week, she said. 

Six thousand doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech have arrived in Hamilton so far, Richardson said. The Moderna vaccine is also expected over the next couple of weeks, which Richardson said would allow the vaccine program to expand to those who live in long-term care and retirement homes. That planning is underway.