As It Happens·Q&A

'I'm helping bring this pandemic to an end,' says nurse who got dose of COVID-19 vaccine

After long, gruelling shifts and restless nights full of COVID-19 nightmares, Colette Cameron says the end of the pandemic is now in sight. The registered nurse and long-term care CEO was among the first five people in Ontario to receive a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Monday.

Executive director of long-term care home says 1st of 2 Pfizer shots was 'a small, painless injection'

Colette Cameron is registered nurse and the executive director of the Rekai Centre at Sherbourne House, a long-term care home in Toronto. She was among the first 5 people in Ontario to receive a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. (Reuters)

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After long, gruelling shifts and restless nights full of COVID-19 nightmares, Colette Cameron says the end of the pandemic is now in sight.

The registered nurse was among the first five people in Ontario to receive a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Monday.

Canada's vaccine rollout kicked off Monday in Ontario and Quebec with a handful of health-care workers and long-term care residents receiving the first of the two required shots. Ontario Premier Doug Ford called it "a watershed moment."

Cameron is the executive director of the Rekai Centres at Sherbourne Place, a long-term care home in Toronto. She got the vaccine along with four of her colleagues.

Here is part of her conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off. 

Colette, this is the shot we've all been waiting for. How did it go?

It went beautifully. Yes, it was such a privilege to be invited to be part of this day. My team and I were just overwhelmed by getting this opportunity. And, yeah, it went very, very well. It didn't hurt at all.

You're part of history at this point, aren't you?

We are. And it's remarkable that our little home that actually went through a fairly severe outbreak in the spring, we've now been recovered since June. And we're working our darndest to make sure that we stay that way. And to be able to protect our residents even more by being one of the first to get the immunization is just amazing.

Personal support worker among first to receive COVID-19 vaccine in Canada

2 years ago
Duration 0:45
Anita Quidangen, a personal support worker in Toronto, became one of the first people in Canada to receive a COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 14, 2020.

The first of five people in Ontario were at your … Sherbourne Place ... all of them [with] little bios that are attached to your names indicating the double-shifts, the long hours, the living at a hotel nearby in order to be there all the time. What was it like? Just give us a sense of how difficult things have been at Sherbourne Place.

At the end of March, our first resident was diagnosed with COVID. And, unfortunately, it took a little while before we got the results from the time he was swabbed to the time we found out. So there is that time period where people were being infected. And also there was a time before he even became symptomatic that we [suspect] a lot of the staff became infected.

So at one point, most of the full-time staff on one unit had called in with COVID sickness. And so [we] were left with a skeleton staff. But we owe it to our residents to make sure that they're well-cared for.

I am the executive director, but I donned my scrubs and I was on the floor and I worked as [personal support worker], and I offered care with my team. And we did everything we could to make sure that our residents were well cared for.

It says that you work 16 hours a day, seven days a week, on the front lines.

For awhile. Until UHN [University Health Network] came in and brought in the reinforcements. And then we were actually able to breathe a sigh of relief.

Cameron received a shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Monday in Toronto. (Dan Girard/UHN)

What effect did that have on your families?

Oh, my poor spouse. When I did actually sleep at night, I'd wake up in the middle of the night in a nightmare worrying about PPE [personal protective equipment].

There was one night — this is embarrassing, but — I ran around the house going, "The dogs don't have PPE. We need to get PPE on the dogs!" It was just bizarre.

You actually did that, or was that your nightmare?

I actually got up, apparently. I don't even remember doing that.

I think that's the amount of stress we were under. But, yes, it's behind us. And as of today, let's hope we never go back there.

Colette, that is just extraordinary. And so now I'm getting a sense of what today must have meant for you and your colleagues.

Oh, it was just incredible.

This virus has wreaked havoc throughout the world. And by going there today and taking this small, painless injection, I'm helping bring this pandemic to an end, and just doing my little part.

We do it, obviously, for the residents and families here. But I do it for my own mom, who I haven't been able to hug because I'm terrified of bringing a virus to her, you know, not knowing that I'm carrying it, even though we do get swabbed every week.

And then a very special thing for me is my daughter's due today, and I expect to welcome a grandson in the next day or so. The two combined, it's just a wonderful day.

And so now how secure are you with just having the one jab? You have to get another one?

I have to get another one in 21 days. So January 4th, I'll be back to get my second shot.

But then we're still going to have to continue with our masking and our shielding and social distancing and washing your hands and everything. Nothing changes once we get the vaccine until more and more people have it.

So if anything, I can say to everybody: Please continue to wear your mask.

First resident receives COVID-19 vaccination at Quebec long-term care home

2 years ago
Duration 0:51
Gisèle Lévesque, 89, became the first Canadian to receive a vaccination against COVID-19 at CHSLD Saint-Antoine in Quebec City. (Video provided by Quebec's Health ministry)

What do you say to those who are skeptical, reluctant to get the vaccine? Even some medical staff at other places are saying that they are reluctant to get the vaccine. 

I think a lot of research has gone into this vaccine, a lot more than probably anybody would have expected…. There's thousands of people [who] have already been part of the pilot. Very few reactions. And I trust that they would not be introducing this unless they were quite confident that it's going to be successful.

I mean, what are alternatives? Do you want to continue living in a pandemic forever? I mean, I think this is what we have to do. And I was thrilled to be a part of it today.

Have you had to try and convince anybody of the success and the efficacy of this vaccine?

Well, it's interesting. On Friday, when we were first told that our staff could be part [the first doses], they were really quite hesitant. You know, "I'll wait and see how others do."

And then after today, all our staff are signing up, and they're quite anxious to have the vaccine themselves. So I think they just needed to see somebody else to do it first. And and we were glad to do that for them.

Does this have a feeling of light at the end of the tunnel? 

It is a light at the end of the tunnel, but the tunnel is still quite long. It's still far out in the distance because, you know, the five of us are just a drop in the bucket. Everybody else has to get on board, and everybody else has to get vaccinated so that we can actually come to the end of that tunnel.

Well, we're all trying to share … vicariously with you, this moment that you have now. And yes, we're all in this together, have been, and will be until it's done, right?

That's right. And all we can do is support each other. And I think this is a very easy way to do that.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Kevin Robertson and Sarah Jackson. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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