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Grim news of four Covid deaths tempers joy of vaccine rollout

Nurses prepare to vaccinate residents at Hillsides on Sunday.

Gibraltar recorded four Covid-related deaths on Sunday, tempering euphoria a day earlier following the arrival of the first shipment of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines from the UK.

The vaccine offers hope of a way out of the public health crisis that has upturned community life since last March.

The vaccination program started early on Sunday and will be rolled out in the coming days to frontline healthcare staff and the elderly.

But even as the Gibraltar Health Authority began vaccinating, the promise of hope came with a grim reminder that Gibraltar cannot escape the threat posed by Covid-19 to communities around the globe.

In sharp contrast to the vaccine news, the Gibraltar Government on Sunday said four people had died from Covid-19 in a period of 24 hours, its bleakest daily update since the start of the pandemic.

The first was a male resident of Elderly Residential Services, aged in his early 90s, who died on Saturday night of Covid-19 pneumonia with septicemia.

The second was a man in his early 70s who was also a cancer patient at the time of his death. The patient died on Sunday of Covid-19 pneumonitis.

The third was a female resident of Elderly Residential Services, aged in her early 90s, who died on Sunday from septicemia due to Covid-19.

The fourth was a woman in her late 90s who died on Sunday of Covid-19 pneumonitis.

All four will be recorded as deaths from Covid-19.

To date since the start of the pandemic, Gibraltar has recorded 16 Covid-related deaths, nine of them in the first 10 days of 2021.

“I am extremely saddened by today’s news of the loss of four members of our community to Covid-19,” said Chief Minister Fabian Picardo.

“My thoughts and deepest sympathies are with the families and friends of the deceased.”

“The poignancy of their deaths on the same day as Gibraltar’s vaccination programme has begun is particularly painful. We are not out of the woods yet.”

“The rollout of the vaccine brings us genuine relief and hope for a brighter tomorrow. But until we can vaccinate everyone, the best way to protect your loved ones is to stay at home.”

“Remember also that it takes a few weeks for the vaccine to begin to offer protection against Covid-19, so even when you are vaccinated you should still take the greatest of care.”

“That means, for now, continuing to stay at home, wearing a mask if you do have to go out for essential reasons and washing your hands well and often.”

Mr Picardo urged everyone to register their interest to receive the vaccine using the GHA’s dedicated online form, available at https://www.gha.gi/covid-19-vaccination-interest-form/.

“I already have done, and eagerly await my turn in line,” he said.

“For now, we will rightly focus on protecting our most vulnerable and our valued frontline workers, whose continued tireless efforts have brought us to this point where we can look to the future with hope.”

VACCINATION PROGRAM

The first person to be receive the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in Gibraltar was acting Medical Director Krishna Rawal.

At approximately 5am yesterday, staff from the GHA Pharmacy Team removed some of the vaccines, which arrived to both great fanfare and relief on Saturday evening, from the freezer in St Bernard’s Hospital so they would thaw.

At 8.44am district nurse Daniella Hernandez administered the first vaccine to Dr Rawal, the first of approximately 300 vaccines injected on Sunday to GHA staff and residents of the Elderly Residential Services.

“I feel fine, perfect, absolutely great,” said Dr Rawal.

“Very efficient I didn’t feel it go in.”

“It is a tiny amount of liquid anyway so I didn’t feel it which is great.”

He called the process of the vaccination programme, dubbed Operation Freedom, so far as “perfect”.

“When you walk into the actual vaccination room you get a sense of proper efficiency,” he said.

“All the team are there. The vaccinators clearly know what they are doing. They are all prepared.”

He explained that they have batches of six at a time and this is to ensure they use the vaccine as quickly as possible. Because once the vaccine is thawed it lasts up to five days but once it is reconstituted by mixing it with sodium chloride to make it up to the 1.8ml it only lasts a short period of time.

“So once we have done that bit and are ready to inject we have to get a bit of a move on,” he said.

“They have been really efficient, making it up in batches ready to go. They have been fantastic.”

Immediately after Dr Rawal was administered his vaccine five others were injected.

These people and the subsequent recipients were frontline staff members such as frontline clinical staff and managers and staff members who have been conducting the Covid-19 swabbing tests.

“They are the ones who are not only swabbing staff but they are also the ones going into homes to swab. So they are the really really really exposed ones. So they are the ones who we will vaccinate straight away,” said Dr Rawal.

The teams administered 420 vaccines on Sunday, with no adverse reactions detected. On subsequent days, the PCC aims to administer some 500 vaccines daily to the general public, starting with older and vulnerable members of the community.

“The idea behind that is number one, we want everyone to be vaccinated as soon as possible,” he said.

“But also as I said the clock is ticking a little bit. So once you thaw the vaccine out and once you reconstitute it your time window is short so you want to use it up as quickly as we can.”

The Director of Public Health, Dr Sohail Bhatti, was also among the first group of healthcare workers to be vaccinated on Sunday.

The GHA Pharmacy Team will remove vaccines from the freezer at 5am every morning a new batch is required.

These batches will also be sent to Elderly Residential Services, just like the batches that arrived at places such as Hillside around 8am on Sunday morning, to the old Primary Care Centre in the ICC and to the vaccination centre at St Bernard’s Hospital.

Among the first people vaccinated at ERS was Catalina Galia.

“We will constantly have a fresh batch. The aim being to use up every day what we essentially pull out so we never waste any,” said Dr Rawal.

“That is key issue.”

“It is so long awaited. The global supply is so tight that we can’t afford to waste a single dose.”

The team will vaccinate seven days a week until all the vaccines are used, he confirmed.

Having had the vaccine Dr Rawal was given a leaflet on what to expect.

“The instructions straight after the injection is to stay around here for 15 minutes in case I start to fell faint or a little unwell,” he said.

“That is normal pretty well for most vaccines anyway.”

“And then the instructions leaflet just gives you a list of those possible side effects that may occur over the next 24 to 48 hours. Which I think again is pretty common to all injections.”

“I don’t see anything on that list which is unusual. Maybe a bit of pain at the injection site, maybe feeling a little bit fluey or coldy but I do not see anything different to any other injections,” he added.

First jab at Hillsides was for ‘nurse who trained nurses’

The first person at Hillsides to receive the vaccine is a former nurse who founded the School of Health Studies.

Robert Durrell, 93, was jabbed with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine early Sunday morning.

As a professional nurse, he was responsible for training nurses locally from 1950 to the day he retired in 1990.

“As a nursing tutor he has mentored a generation of our nurses at the GHA,” a spokesman for the GHA said.

“The GHA wishes to recognise and thank Mr Durrell for his dedication to the development of nursing in Gibraltar.”

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