One Year Later
By Toh Hsien Min
I've just received my first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19. The experience was a little surreal. Because my appointment was at the Raffles City Convention Centre, I walked through the mall just as I would on any random weekend, except that cutting left I soon joined the coalescing mass of cattle being corralled into lines of roughly eight along lines marked in duct tape upon the floor. The whole line then moved up the ranks in parallel, military fashion, and then at the end, facing the escalator, still in line, we were waved onto the conveyor belt. After SafeEntry registration, we joined another line curving around an internal airwell so that we could see through to the mall below. If not for the information sheet that was passed around and the quick, human-led survey on allegies and medications, and the fact that I could still get some reading done while inching slowly up the line, it would have felt like Fray Bentos, or somewhere where human rights offences were about to be committed. At registration, they still had my old postal code from two decades ago, so long has it been since I've been in the public healthcare system, and then I was ushered to another waiting area, this time seated, but adorned with a sign at the front prohibiting video- or photography. My number - 2053 - came up, I was pointed to a small booth in among rows and columns of booths, and a man in an evening blue uniform took my info sheet with the declaration of health condtions. He took a cotton swab, then a needle and a vial of clear liquid, his hands moving in a practised simultaneity. He drew the liquid into the needle, and then doused the cotton in alcohol and swabbed my upper left arm, perhaps the only hint of a lapse being that it was only then that he paused to ask me if that was my dominant arm. Then I felt a pinprick, and was asked to go to the observation area, where I sat and continued reading. About ten minutes in, I felt the most awful feeling creeping up on me: it was vertigo, the room started to sway, my ears were becoming clogged so that I could hear less and less of the ambient noise in the room, and I started breaking out in a cold sweat. Fortunately, I had experienced this before, and recognised it as a vasovagal response. I stopped reading, called a staff nurse over, they gave me water, and in twenty minutes I was fine enough on my feet to walk out of there.
I had my jab on Monday evening. By Thursday, Singapore reported a spike of community cases. To have 16 cases, up from levels that hadn't exceeded five the whole year and as many as in July last year, would be itself worrying, but what topped it off was that this cluster arose in Tan Tock Seng Hospital. Now I know that the vaccine does not confer immunity, but the fact that these healthcare workers would have been among the first to receive the vaccine and the protection afforded to them should have been operating at peak, but in a low community prevalence environment the fact that so many of them have contracted Covid at a high enough intensity to be picked up in testing is concerning. Follow the math: if efficacy is measured at 1 - (attack rate with vaccine)/(attack rate without), then three vaccinated TTSH frontline healthcare workers contracting the virus suggests that one of three things: either this is truly a 1-in-big-number statistical anomaly, or the "unvaxxed" infection rate among the TTSH healthcare workers should have been 60, or else the vaccine isn't really working at 95% efficacy. In my view, one of these three is more likely than the others; this might be prima facie evidence of a more virulent strain capable of overwhelming the vaccine, our probability of a new lockdown one year after has just spiked, and the odds of any travel in the remainder of the year have just lengthened. This virus is going to be a harder one to defeat than we have all thought.
I wouldn't exactly call this an anomaly issue, but there're certainly more connections within the issue than usual. Jonathan Chan may be the first contributor to have a piece in three sections concurrently - Poetry, Essays and Criticism - each selection having been made by a different editor. Further, Robert Yeo appears both in Interviews and (indirectly) in Criticism. And one could argue as to which is cause and which effect in the correlation of three poems with healthcare themes among the half dozen I've selected, along with the arguably two such short stories selected by Kai Chai. This long Covid season has been on all our minds. Let's hope that this time next year our Poetry section is full of the usual cheerful poems about non-medical causes of heartbreak and loss.QLRS Vol. 20 No. 2 Apr 2021