When Dr Prabir Mitra helped vaccinate hundreds of elderly and vulnerable patients against Covid-19 at his surgery in Norfolk last week, it was the first time in months that he had heard them express hope for the future.
Mitra, 46, kept a photo diary of the immunisation programme at St James medical practice in King’s Lynn to document what he regards as the first positive step to tackle the virus after the hardest year he has faced in 13 years as a family GP.
Around 975 patients over the age of 80 received their first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab, which was shown to have 95% efficacy in its final trials. Staff from two other GP practices in the town helped meet the deadline to deliver the vaccine, which has to be used within three and a half days of being defrosted from -70C to ensure it is effective.
“We were vaccinating from 8am to 8pm,” said Mitra, who has won awards for his photography. “But the workload was nothing in comparison to the positive vibes from so many patients. Their main hope after all these months of almost self-isolation was they could be a bit more social. They have been terribly lonely.”
For many of Mitra’s patients, the vaccination was one of the few times they had left their homes since the first lockdown in March. “Somebody said: ‘Doctor, I have lost almost a year of my life. You are younger and can make it up next year if everything is OK but my days are numbered.’”
Among the first to be vaccinated was Enid Bright, 93, who worked as a receptionist at the surgery for more than 20 years. “She was quite emotional having almost spent the whole year within her four walls,” said Mitra. “She was hoping she could perhaps see some family members.”
Another of the patients Mitra photographed was Raymond Burn, 85, who has lived on his own since his wife died a few years ago. “He likes travelling. He was in Italy just before the first lockdown. He was pleased to receive the vaccination because he has received a significant diagnosis in an advanced stage and he doesn’t know how long he will be here with us. He was hoping the jab will allow him to be up and about rather than being confined to his house.”
One of the most memorable patients to receive the jab was John Madge, 95, who turned up wearing a three-piece suit, tie and hat. “He was our most sophisticatedly dressed patient,” said the GP. “When he took his coat off, his left arm was bare. He’d taken a pair of scissors and cut a whole sleeve off, thinking that that would help us. He said: ‘I have lived through the war and I hope I will live through this war.’”
For Mitra, the pandemic has also been personally challenging. From March until late summer he lived separately from his wife, Sanjukta, a teacher, and their two teenage children, in an annexe of their home, owing to “nerve-racking” fears that he might infect them.
“I would enter the back door, walk straight into the shower and put the clothes into the washing machine before entering the house,” he said. “The rest of the family were not allowed into that part of the building. I know colleagues who hired a room in a hotel for six weeks. They didn’t go home because their children had health issues.”
The patients who received their initial dose of the vaccine last week will return in the first week of January for their second injection. Mitra is optimistic that 2021 will bring better times. “I hope that with the scientific advances, we will be able to beat the virus. This is the light at the end of the tunnel.”