A CORK woman, whose mother succumbed to Covid-19 weeks after her first vaccination, has highlighted the need for public compliance with health advice as the vaccine is rolled out.
Valerie O’Connor from Blarney Street lost her mother Bernie, who contracted Covid-19 weeks after receiving her first jab.
She, along with doctors and consultants, is pleading with people who have been vaccinated to remain cautious.
"I'm urging people to remain extra vigilant until they are fully vaccinated. We are already forgetting the damage this can do."
Ms O’Connor described how their joy in her mother’s vaccination was cruelly ripped away from them.
“The rug was pulled from under us so fast it left everyone shaken. She started off asymptomatic, but things changed day by day until they became horrendous. Going to see her was lonely, but the journey back was far lonelier.”
She admits that they still experience guilt about not being able to give her mother the funeral she deserved.
“Fifteen years ago, my mum told us how she wanted her funeral to be. It was written down, signed and dated. In a way, you feel that, by not being able to fulfill a loved one’s dying wishes, you have somehow let them down. Some day we will look back on this as a country and say ‘this is what grief did to us’.”
Ms O’Connor stressed that they were not the only family suffering, with many being left without closure.
“The fatalities came out as numbers on TV, but for every number there is a family. Everything is opening up now, but for us life has stopped,” Ms O’Connor said.
“The last chapter of my mum’s life was left unfinished. Even when you know a parent is elderly and coming to the end of their life, nobody wants it to happen this way. The light was turned on at the end of the tunnel only to get switched off again. The fact that she had her first vaccination probably made it worse for us.
“When I was a child it was thought that, because of my medical conditions, I wouldn’t be able to walk. Her motto was ‘of course you can’ and she never stopped believing in me. She held my hand through every operation. I’m just sorry that I couldn’t do the same for her.”
She added that it was also a difficult time for those unable to sympathise with friends and family.
“People still ask: ‘How is your mum?’ Everyone had become so disconnected from each other during the lockdown that many hadn’t even realised that she died.”
Meanwhile, consultant microbiologist Dr Olive Murphy, from the Bon Secours Hospital in Cork, warned people not to let their guard down until the majority of the population is fully vaccinated.
This comes after a colleague contracted Covid-19, despite being fully vaccinated. Nonetheless, she assured people that vaccinations were having a major impact.
“The vaccines are quite remarkable and much better than the standard flu vaccine we take every year in terms of protection,” she said. “What’s really dramatic is how effective they are. They are our way out of this and we are seeing that now more than ever. At the moment, the race is between these variants and getting everyone protected.
“Vaccines do reduce transmission, but not to the same degree as they would against severe disease. That’s why staying the course is the most sensible thing to do right now. People have a tendency to think they are safe after their first vaccination, but there are still risks. After the first dose, it’s going to take a little time for your body to develop the antibody.”
The frontline worker shed light on the overwhelming relief for people being vaccinated.
“Most of us working in the area of infectious diseases were horrified last Christmas because we knew what was coming. Personally, I felt it was inevitable. Having been on the other side, it’s really not a place we would like to go back to. Now, there is such a sense of relief for people, who didn’t even know the toll this was taking on them until the time came for the vaccine. We are still not quite there yet. What people were dealing with was horrific and we don’t want them to be hit a second time.”
Dr Murphy added that blame won’t solve the pandemic.
“Seeing what’s going on has been heartbreaking,” she said. “However, victimising individual groups is not the answer. There has been a lot of finger-pointing going on and that’s preventing a lot of people from coming forward. Unless you lock yourself in the house and have no contact, then the chance of contracting Covid will still exist.”
She reminded people to stay positive.
“There is no doubt that vaccinations are having a marvellous effect. We know that over 90% of people are going to be protected against severe disease, but there is still a percentage of people who aren’t going to be protected. Until we get to a stage where the population is vaccinated, we are advising people to adhere to the standard measures. From looking at what’s happening, I think we will reach our targets. All we have to do is stay on course.”
Supports are available for those affected by pandemic bereavements from the HSE by visiting www2.hse.ie/wellbeing/mental-health/covid-19/bereavement-and-grief-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic.html