Canada

‘I feel so very privileged’: Meet some of Ontario’s first vaccine recipients

Five years as a registered nurse and personal support worker at the Rekai Centres long-term-care facilities and Colette Cameron has never seen anything like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Receiving her COVID-19 vaccination Monday helped mark the start of Canada’s recovery from the virus, which has disproportionately impacted seniors at long-term-care homes. The shots were developed by drug company Pfizer and their distribution on Monday across Canada launched the beginning of the largest immunization campaign in the country’s history.

“I feel so very privileged and honoured to be asked to step up to get the vaccine,” Cameron who is also the centres’ executive director of long-term care, told the Star Monday. “The world has been through this awful devastation, and the only light at the end of the tunnel from what I can see is the vaccine. So to be one of the first to get that …it’s a real honour.”

Anita Quidangen, a personal support worker at the centre, was the first person to be administered the COVID-19 vaccine in Ontario Monday. She has been employed by the Rekai Centres since 1988, and worked throughout outbreaks — often on double shifts.

Quidangen said she was excited to get the shot.

“It’s an honour, thank you very much,” she said. “I’ll continue to do my job as a PSW.”

Kevin Smith, president of the University Health Network, which administered the Toronto vaccines, said the shots mark a victory for science.

“Today, really, we turned the corner,” Smith said. “I like to say this is the shot that will be heard around the world.”

Cameron said she wants to inspire more Ontarians to be vaccinated. “I’m hoping that people will see that this is the only way we’re going to get out of this.”

Monday’s shot was the first of two, Cameron said. She’ll get a booster shot in 21 days after which her body will begin building immunity to the virus. In the meantime, it’s business as usual: washing hands, social distancing and wearing a mask.

“I’d never want to do it again,” Cameron said of working during the pandemic. “I’ve never dealt with anything as devastating and as heartbreaking as being in a COVID outbreak. I never want to go back there again.

“I really urge everybody to get vaccinated. I think that’s the only way around this.”

Joining Cameron and Quidangen to get vaccinated were three other Rekai Centres employees. They are:

  • Lucky Aguila joined Rekai Centres, Sherbourne Place in 2019 after coming on for his placement as a student. In May 2020, he formally joined the centre while the home was in outbreak, often sleeping at the nearby Isabella Hotel.

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  • Personal support worker Derek Thompson said it felt just like getting a flu shot. “What happens next? We continue on, we continue the fight,” he said. “It’s an honour, there was a lot of people they could have picked, but we were the ones they picked.”

  • Cecile Lasco has worked at Rekai Centres for nearly 20 years, alongside her husband. The couple worked together through COVID-19 outbreaks.

With files from The Canadian Press

Jenna Moon is a breaking news reporter for the Star and is based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @_jennamoon

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