With the news the UK government has approved the first vaccine for mass usage, the industry I love can begin to confidently start booking those well-deserved holidays again.
2020 has been a tsunami of bad news, but we’re a resolute lot, battle-hardened from decades of natural disasters and global recessions.
Today’s approved vaccine is one of many in the process of being approved. There will be some who are anti-vaccination, and there will be others who worry about the speed with which it has been developed and approved. I understand those concerns but have inside knowledge of how it’s been working.
I’ve been vaccinated as part of the Oxford University AstraZeneca Covid-19 trial. Today I’m talking through what I’ve gone through to ensure this vaccine is safe to roll out – and to debunk some myths.
Nine months ago, I thought that all I needed to do was push a door open with my elbow and open another one with my pinkie finger. To push buttons with my shirt held over my finger and sing Happy Birthday twice while washing my hands.
Over the next months, I watched Covid-19 stealthily move through the world, infiltrating our homes and our businesses; derailing the word I love best – "spontaneity". My wedding was cancelled, holidays to the Greek Islands and Seychelles were cancelled. Weekend trips and visits to the pub and local restaurant stopped. Everything had to be planned – and unplanned.
The travel industry was being shredded, and confidence levels from consumers and colleagues were waning while we waited to wake up one day and it be gone – but that wasn’t happening.
Before the first lockdown I was on a medical trial for a new wonder drug, unrelated to Covid. The trial was stopped – and that was frustrating. Oxford University had been trying to secure funding for three years and then the regulatory approval had taken another year. Now all hands were on deck for every NHS member to join the fight against Covid-19.
Three months later, I was called in by my consultant, one of the lead scientists in her field. She wanted to talk to me about a new trial – the Oxford AstraZeneca Covid-19 trial.
How can it be so quick, I asked? Because the three years of waiting for funding wasn’t necessary – the government funded it; the regulators had approved it because it was the planet’s most pressing issue and the scientists were working collaboratively by sharing insights and data like never before.
Immediately, I said yes. Too many of my friends and colleagues were losing their jobs as travel was brought to its knees.
And so, it began. My Covid-19 journey. I had blood tests to make sure I was good and a week later, I was given the first vaccine.
I didn’t feel a thing, and after 15 minutes of waiting to make sure I had no adverse reactions, I was sent home with lots of paperwork, emergency numbers and a new electronic diary to fill in every day.
My arm felt bruised when I prodded it for about two days. I suppose I didn’t need to prod it, but I did. Two days later I was back at the hospital for blood tests and a full check-up. All good.
Another visit three days later, more blood and more tests – all good.
I filled in the electronic diary every day and on a weekly basis used the home test kit, took blood tests and had medical check-ups.
Next came the second vaccination – and it started all over again. I now have more home test kits than I have room for. But for the next 52 weeks, and then after that, too, I will be continually checked and monitored to make sure that I still have the antibodies, and that I don’t have the virus.
It’s wonderfully odd to begin to get back to a normal life. I no longer worry about opening doors or pushing buttons, I no longer sing Happy Birthday twice while washing my hands (although I still do that a lot), and when someone walks past me in a supermarket I no longer have to worry about the “Covid shuffle” if someone is not socially distancing.
When I get a sniffle I no longer have to worry I have contracted Covid-19 – the same when I cough.
I have known my consultant for 15 years, from the time I was diagnosed with a form of cancer. I trust her implicitly. She has become my friend and confidante. She is one of the leading scientists in the world, and when she asked me to go on this trial I knew she’d only ask me if she thought it was the right and safe thing to do.
Very shortly we will see politicians, celebrities, influencers, doctors, nurses and scientists have the vaccine. There will be concern and some conspiracy theories – but I know it works because I’ve had the vaccine, all the tests and checks.
As an industry, we have to gain confidence in ourselves and give our customers confidence that a vaccine is safe, because only then will we be able to move forward and make 2021 the year of the holiday.
I’m starting early – I go on holiday this Saturday. A long-haul break that seemed like just a dream a few months ago is just about to become a reality.
Carl Catterall is an industry marketing expert (formerly Olympic Holidays)