After months of anticipation at times bordering on the obsessive (with news helicopters following the arrival of the vaccine at the airport), it was an unflappable 84-year-old who became the first person in Australia to be given the jab.
Jane Malysiak, who survived the second world war and immigrated to Australia from Poland more than 70 years ago, sat alongside the prime minister as the injection was delivered.
Malysiak said she was grateful for the vaccination – but also thrilled to be out and about on a Sunday rather than in the nursing home.
“I’m out, with all of these lovely people here.”
“I didn’t expect all these people, I thought I’d get the jab, take two pictures and that was it. My poor boys will be shocked, I haven’t told them I’m here!”
“It’s been lovely, I never expected anything like this,” she said.
Malysiak was among 20 people given the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine in the country, alongside the prime minister, the chief health officer, frontline and essential workers.
And rather than a hi-tech lab or a top hospital, the first vaccinations were delivered in a suburban medical clinic in a shopping mall in the north-western Sydney suburbs.
Most other Australians will also be vaccinated in similar circumstances, but unlike Malysiak they will have to wait. About 1.4m doses will be rolled out for phase 1a of the federal government’s program, which includes frontline healthcare and quarantine workers, and aged care residents and staff. Phase 1b, with about 14m doses, is much wider and won’t begin until later this year.
Despite just a handful of people being vaccinated on Sunday, there was a celebratory atmosphere, akin to the last day of term, with vaccinations welcomed by cheers and clapping. For many, it felt like the end of an ordeal, or at least the beginning of the end.
Marilyn Jolly, an aged care worker from Uniting, said: “The sooner we all get vaccinated, the sooner we can return to some sort of normal life.”
“It’s been a year like no other, because we’ve constantly got policy updates, so it’s been a movable feast. It’s taken its toll.”
Jolly said she put her hand up at work to be the first to receive the injection, and cared little for the attention that would bring.
“Some were a bit shy about doing it in front of everybody, but I couldn’t care less, just give me the injection and we can move on.”
Monika Kurdziel, an aged care staffer from Holy Family Services, said she was grateful to be among the first in the country.
“I’m just humbled and appreciative to be one of the first to get the vaccines in the country,” she said. “Being one of the first is such an ‘oh my gosh’ moment.”
John Healy, an 86-year-old resident at Wesley Taylor Village Narrabeen, was chosen by the department of health from among the facility’s residents to receive the injection.
“There were no worries. It was just a little prick, and that was it,” he said.
“I’m quite honoured, really. I was second to receive it, and it was nice. I met the prime minister as well, and I’ve never done that before.”
When asked if he felt lucky to be only the second person in the country to be vaccinated, John pauses for a moment, before pointing to a stain on his shirt.
“I just had a bird poo on my back, he just dropped it as we were coming in. Lucky times, hey? I guess it’s a bit of both.”
Trish, a nurse at the centre, said she volunteered to get the vaccine from among her colleagues, and hoped it was a small step towards returning the country to normal.
“I feel very privileged to have received it, it was fine and felt nothing at all. I feel like it’s the least I could do to help out and get Australia back to normal again.”
Mila Thomas, a disability support worker at Ability Options, was excited to receive the vaccine, walking into the vaccination area with the prime minister.
“Come on, let’s go!” she shouted.
“I feel very good! I hope everybody does the same thing. I feel very, very lucky for myself and for my clients, who I support.”
“It was so hard with this pandemic, especially for people with disabilities. We had to try and explain how masks and Covid works.”
Thomas immigrated from the Philippines in 1985, and said she felt privileged to be there on Sunday.
“Yeah, I do feel lucky,” she said, before looking up and pointing to the heavens and nodding, “I think he is also looking out for me as well.”