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David Mackay: I had my Covid vaccine in an empty Moray retail park unit – and was reminded how resourceful our NHS is

Press and Journal reporter David Mackay received his Covid vaccination as part of the accelerated rollout in Moray
Press and Journal reporter David Mackay received his Covid vaccination as part of the accelerated rollout in Moray

It was over in barely a couple of seconds, and in truth I hardly noticed it.

Walking around Elgin the last few weeks, though, it could hardly be more noticeable that something has been going on.

People stepping a little bit further onto the grass while walking in the park, the supermarket aisles becoming eerily quiet again and friends and family from further afield suddenly taking more of an interest in how safe my wife and I are.

We have been able to enjoy luxuries others couldn’t, until now

Throughout the last year it has felt like the coronavirus pandemic has predominantly been happening somewhere else – Glasgow, Edinburgh, or some other big city.

In Moray, we were fine. The case numbers were the lowest on the Scottish mainland and we were able to enjoy luxuries others couldn’t. I even went to a football match to cheer on Elgin City in December.

We know there have been cases of Covid here, and several of us will know families who have been devastated by the loss of a loved one.

But the chances of catching it in Elgin, Lossiemouth or Fochabers seemed so small that we were sure we’d be fine.

Elgin City fans celebrate a goal in December 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic

The last few weeks have changed all that.

It started with rumours about cases at Elgin Academy after the Easter holidays. Nothing unusual there – sporadic cases have been reported in schools throughout the pandemic.

But then the whisper of rumours grew louder, started coming from different sources, and grew to the point where mobile testing units opened in seemingly every community.

It all became slightly overwhelming, looking at the spike in cases climbing every day.

Getting the vaccination call

The accelerated vaccine rollout from NHS Grampian could not have come at a better point.

Just when the region was coming to terms with the fact it would be left behind the rest of the country as Scotland moved to Level 2, a ray of light came that brighter days will be on the way again soon.

I’m a 34-year-old man with no health problems other than a genetic disposition to my body hoarding iron.

I estimated it would still be a month before I got my first jab. Then I got a call on Saturday afternoon (May 8) while having lunch and was being vaccinated by about 9pm on Monday.

The Fiona Elcock Vaccination Centre in Elgin

Making my way to the Fiona Elcock Vaccination Centre, which has been set up in an empty retail park unit and christened in memory of a local nurse, the signs were there once again something unusual was going on.

Suddenly a lot of people around my age were walking through the park on an evening when it would otherwise be deserted.

Two queues were being managed outside the makeshift clinic, one for those with appointments and one for those eager to take any empty slots.

Inside, it was a strange experience being shuttled between various cubicles. Seats were wiped down almost as quickly as someone stood up.

Despite the slick operation and the legion of staff and volunteers, it was still evident it was a temporary facility, from the homely front door, to the temporary wall, to the unshakeable feeling that I was sitting in a warehouse.

But the fact that I was sitting there at 9pm with more queuing to get inside made it clear how many resources NHS Grampian had thrown at Moray to speed up the vaccination rollout.

Residents in Moray have been urged to receive Covid tests

When it was my time to get my Pfizer jab, Bernie sat me down with his cheery disposition, asked me to pick an arm and roll up my sleeve. It was all over and done with quickly – almost before I knew it.

Before leaving, everyone was asked to take a seat in the neighbouring retail unit to be observed for 10 minutes.

Once again the temporary nature of the operation come flooding back as I sat in one of many plastic chairs, spaced out across a former bed store – complete with mattress adverts still on the wall.

The road ahead

If Moray is held at Level 3 restrictions next week, it is important to remember that we’re not going back to a full lockdown. Shops, cafes, gyms, swimming pools and pubs all remain open and safe to use – providing everyone sticks to the rules.

Local businesses will need our support more than ever, as travel restrictions will stop visitors coming to the area.

If we all do our bit, we can all enjoy hugs with our friends and family soon enough.

David Mackay is a senior news reporter for The Press & Journal who lives in Elgin

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