Expat Chronicles: Now is the Winter of Our Vaccines

They started administering COVID-19 vaccines in the UK this week, making our little island the first western country to roll out a mass coronavirus vaccine — ahead of the U.S., ahead of Germany, ahead of France, ahead of Ottawa, ahead of Australia, ahead of El Segundo, ahead of Liechtenstein — which can only mean that the British Empire will once again run roughshod over the rest of the ailing and unsuspecting world, so you can expect to see a Union Jack planted in your neighborhood any day now…..

Or not. Maybe the UK just caught a lucky break, and that luck will soon branch out to the rest of the world.

The vaccine is from American pharmaceutical behemoth Pfizer, and is officially called a Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine shot here, except the Brits call it a “jab” instead of a “shot.” The first time I heard the term “jab” in a medical context, I imagined the nurse was going to send a stiff left fist into my face, ala Muhammad Ali, and wondered whether I would need to bob and weave to avoid the blow and counter with a left hook to the midsection.

Anyway, it’s all good and happy news, this vaccine business. It’s the first good and happy news anyone’s had for longer than we care to remember. Margaret Keenan, soon to turn 91, was the first Brit to get the vaccine. She called it the “best early birthday present,” and encouraged others to get the vaccine as well. (If you’re interested in The Onion’s hilarious take, here’s a link).

According to the BBC News website, Ms. Keenan’s shot was the “first of 800,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine that will be dispensed in the coming weeks. Up to four million more are expected by the end of the month.”

As luck would have it, William Shakespeare got the second vaccine. Yes, that’s right: William Shakespeare. This particular William Shakespeare, 81-years-old, is just a regular bloke from Warwickshire, which apparently has some significance to the original William Shakespeare, though I have no idea what that significance is, and am too lazy to find out. Mr. Shakespeare got his jab at University Hospital in Coventry, and called the staff there “wonderful.”

Also wonderful: People have had a field day trotting out the Shakespearean puns over the vaccine:

All’s well that ends well….

It’s much ado about nothing….

A plague on neither of your houses….

I’m surprised they let William Shakespeare have the vaccine. I thought he was Bard.

Well, in any case: I’m told that all adults in the UK are expected to be vaccinated by April. The BBC says the UK has ordered 40 million doses of the jab, or enough to vaccinate 20 million people. Each person will be given two doses — the first one, and then a second one a few weeks later.

We haven’t received any correspondence from the NHS or any other authority instructing us on how to proceed. Right now it looks like those most at risk and/or most essential are getting the early vaccines – the elderly and infirm, medical workers, emergency workers, etc. That’s as it should be.

My hope is that I don’t get a letter in the mail from the NHS saying something along the lines of, “Dear Yank: You can bloody well have your vaccine as soon as you and the rest of your sodding country apologize for the Treason of 1776 and re-pledge your loyalty to the Crown. God Save Our Gracious Queen!

My real hope — along with the hope of billions of others — is that the vaccine sends COVID-19 on a fast train to oblivion, so that we can all get back to our lives without fear of COVID-related death, illness, lockdown, and assorted other miseries.

On a much smaller and less important scale: It would be nice to enter a pub again without having to scan a code and give them my contact info, and without having to sit at a table to order a pint instead of bellying up to the bar, and without having to order food because customers now have to order food to sit inside and drink (for reasons I cannot comprehend).

It would be nice to see the streets alive with smiling faces, and the shops all open, and the small businesses able to earn a living again.

It would be nice to have everyone go back to their workplaces, gyms, schools, social clubs, etc., instead of being stuck at home. For months now we’ve had an up-close view of our neighbors: the guy who practices samurai sword moves in the parking lot in the middle of the day; the woman who does yoga in the parking lot with her yoga instructor in the early morning; the guy who does a series of exercises in his back garden, right next to our back garden.

These were things you didn’t see in the pre-COVID world. I’m not saying it’s not nice to see them. I’m just saying: For those of us who have always worked from home, and who have come to regard these hours as our own personal monarchy, beholden to our own whims and rules, well…..

I do like the samurai dude, though, the way he thrusts and lunges, the serious look on his face as he stares down a tree in the parking lot and makes an overhead slash with his sword, his various knee bends and arm extensions. He’s actually a nice guy. When I used to hit tennis against the wall in our back yard over the summer, back when the ground wasn’t soggy 24/7, I would occasionally send one over the wall and have to retrieve it in the parking lot adjacent to our home. I’d walk past Samurai sometimes to fetch it.

He’d smile and nod hello, as if to say, “Crazy world, mate, me with my parking lot swords, you with your back yard tennis. But it’s the only one we got right now, yeah?”

It was the only one we had, and the only one we have. And here’s hoping it gets a whole lot better in 2021, for all of us.

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