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First vaccine recipient in NI hopes she did her daughter proud

Nurse Joanna Sloan received the jab shortly after 8am on Tuesday in Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital.

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Sister Joanna Sloan, who is the first person in Northern Ireland to receive the first of two Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine jabs, at the Royal Victoria Hospital, in Belfast, on the first day of the largest immunisation programme in the UK’s history. Care home workers, NHS staff and people aged 80 and over have been receiving the jab from Tuesday (Liam McBurney/PA)

Sister Joanna Sloan, who is the first person in Northern Ireland to receive the first of two Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine jabs, at the Royal Victoria Hospital, in Belfast, on the first day of the largest immunisation programme in the UK’s history. Care home workers, NHS staff and people aged 80 and over have been receiving the jab from Tuesday (Liam McBurney/PA)

Sister Joanna Sloan, who is the first person in Northern Ireland to receive the first of two Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine jabs, at the Royal Victoria Hospital, in Belfast, on the first day of the largest immunisation programme in the UK’s history. Care home workers, NHS staff and people aged 80 and over have been receiving the jab from Tuesday (Liam McBurney/PA)

Sister Joanna Sloan’s five-year-old daughter was at school with her primary school friends on Tuesday morning, entirely oblivious to her mum’s history making moment.

The 28-year-old nurse wanted it that way, so later in the day she could be with Cailie when she watched it for the first time.

“I hope that I get to be there when she sees it,” she said.

“I hope it makes her proud and I hope that she’ll go to school tomorrow and be proud that her mum has got the vaccine and was the first to get it. I am excited to tell her.”

Sister Sloan, from Dundrum in Co Down, should have married her long-time partner Chris in September. Like so many 2020 nuptials, the ceremony fell victim to the pandemic and the couple have rescheduled to April.

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Sister Joanna Sloan becomes the first person in Northern Ireland to receive the vaccine jab (Liam McBurney/PA)

Sister Joanna Sloan becomes the first person in Northern Ireland to receive the vaccine jab (Liam McBurney/PA)

PA

Sister Joanna Sloan becomes the first person in Northern Ireland to receive the vaccine jab (Liam McBurney/PA)

Given her last ten months, there would not have been much time for wedding planning anyway.

A nurse for six years, Ms Sloan was working as a clinical sister at the Royal Victoria Hospital’s emergency department at the turn of the year. In February, as Northern Ireland braced for the arrival of the virus, she was promoted to senior nurse with responsibility for Covid-19.

That involved developing safe working processes and pathways for symptomatic coronavirus patients presenting at A&E.

That progressed into a job helping to establish three Covid testing centres.

In recent weeks she had been at the forefront of efforts to transform a large storage building on the Royal site into the Belfast Trust’s vaccination centre.

“Everyone has been working around the clock for the past few weeks to get our centre up and running,” she said.

“There has been a lot of hard work. Originally it was a storage facility and we have been able to turn that into a complete clinical environment within under a week.”

With the centre ready on time, sister Sloan will now manage the team administering the vaccines in Belfast over the weeks and months ahead.

But before that there was the little matter of getting the jab herself.

Given her pivotal role in setting up the centre, trust management felt it appropriate that sister Sloan should be the first recipient of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in Northern Ireland.

She walked into the vaccination room shortly after 8am and was greeted by colleagues and peer vaccinators Carly Niblock, 32, and Conor McDowell, 31, both from Belfast.

Mr McDowell had earlier wheeled the single vial of vaccine in on a trolley – almost ceremonially.

After asking the sister some routine medical questions, Ms Niblock picked up the tiny glass receptacle from the centre of a blue plastic tray, punctured the lid and slowly drew out the vaccine into a syringe.

She then wiped the top of sister Sloan’s left arm with a cotton ball before carefully pressing the needle into her skin. It was done. The first person on the island of Ireland had received a Covid-19 vaccine.

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There was a brief pause and then the applause started.

First among fellow healthcare workers in the room before reverberating down the corridor outside, where a socially distanced line of fellow vaccinators were already queuing for their dose.

Mr McDowell briefly grabbed Ms Sloan’s shoulders with his gloved hands and squeezed tight. At a different time in a different context you suspect it would have been a massive hug.

The nurse was wearing a face mask but it was clear from the sudden creasing around her eyes that she was smiling and broadly.

Afterwards, she reflected on her emotions at being first in line.

There was pride and there was relief but there was also sadness at what this long year had already brought.

“I just thought to myself at last we’re here,” she said.

“Through everything that healthcare workers (have been through), either in hospital or community, people themselves losing family members, us losing colleagues, it felt like it was a huge moment and that (this) was and could possibly be the final hurdle in the fight against Covid.”

If the vaccine rollout goes to schedule, the need for restrictions in Northern Ireland is expected to diminish come spring time.

Sister Sloan’s April wedding date now looks a decent bet.

But before then there is a lot more work to be done.

“I’m hoping there is light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.

“We might get to have our big day after ten years of waiting.”

PA


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