A Nanaimo senior who was born during the Spanish flu pandemic is about to get his first dose of vaccine during another pandemic more than 100 years later.
Victor Osborne, 102, was on the phone early Monday morning to ensure he was in line for some of the first COVID-19 immunizations available to seniors 90-plus. His appointment is scheduled for Monday, March 15, in the afternoon.
Osborne said he started calling the Island Health vaccination appointment number about two minutes before the lines opened at 7 a.m.
“I was two and a half hours on the phone…” Osborne said. “I was sure they were going to take me in that day. I finally got through. I was dialling that number. It was lousy. I finally got someone to answer.”
Osborne isn’t a stranger to new vaccines. He was 16 and serving aboard the Royal Navy’s HMS Hood in the mid-1930s when he saw a post asking for volunteers for trials to test the effects of poison gas, which involved exposure to skin of the trial participant’s arms, and for the trial of the influenza A vaccine. Influenza A, according to information from the Mayo Clinic, is a sub type of H1N1, the virus responsible for the Spanish flu pandemic.
“I was on board the battle cruiser Hood as a boy seaman,” Osborne said. “I saw the notice up on the notice board – this is about 1934 or ’35 – and then following the notice there was another note [that read] if you went for this poison gas test on one arm and another poison gas test on the other arm, each test would get five days’ leave, so naturally, I wanted to go home on leave.”
So Osborne volunteered for the trials.
“Well, lo and behold, I got the bloody flu and I wound up in the naval hospital for 10 days and it was really violent,” he said. “I was looking at the pictures on the wall in the hospital and it just looked like mud.”
To add insult to injury, when Osborne returned to his ship and reported to his duty officer, he was denied his leave, in spite of being in the hospital for 10 days.
“He said you were absent from place of duty. You’re not going to get any leave,” Osborne said.
Osborne transferred off HMS Hood to a New Zealand ship in 1937, about three years before it was sunk by the German battleship Bismarck during the Battle of the Denmark Strait in May 1941.
As for getting the shot against COVID-19, Osborne said he doesn’t have any concerns.
“I feel OK,” he said. “In the navy we get lots of shots. Yellow fever, you name it, but we didn’t have any choice and we had to take medication against malaria when I was out in Burma. You didn’t have any choice. They just did you whenever they wanted to.”
Once again, Osborne found out he won’t have a choice about which vaccine he’ll be inoculated with.
“I told them when I was speaking to them yesterday, ‘Do you mind giving me that one shot? I’ve been waiting this long and I’d like to live a bit longer,’” he said. “[They said], ‘No, you’ll have to take whatever they give you.’”
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