At 106, early vaccine recipient still remembers Spanish flu

At 106, early vaccine recipient still remembers Spanish flu

January 21, 2021

Rio de Janeiro: Zélia de Carvalho Morley rolled up a sleeve and looked stoically to the side as a nurse slid in a COVID-19 shot. She was one of thousands in Brazil to be vaccinated on Thursday AEDT, but one of very few old enough to recall an earlier viral pandemic that swept her nation and the world a century ago.

Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1914, Morley was a girl when the so-called Spanish flu killed millions around the world in 1918-1920, when no vaccines were available.

Zelia de Carvalho Morley, 106, gestures before receiving a shot of China’s Sinovac CoronaVac vaccine at the retirement home where she lives in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.Credit:AP

“The whole of Brazil caught it. Too many people died,” she said, wearing a pink daisy chain on her head. “I don’t forget anything!”

“I think this vaccine is going to be very good,” Morley said, displaying a generous smile before placing her light blue mask back on her face. “It’s in the hands of God."

Centenarians like Morley are among the first vaccine recipients in many countries, including Brazil, where the government's immunisation campaign officially kicked off on Tuesday with distribution of the Chinese-developed CoronaVac product.

With more than 210,000 deaths, Latin America's largest nation has the second highest tally in the world behind the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University’s database.

Morley's doctor, Paulo Cesar Cunha Fabiano, 73, who has been working at the Vovo House retirement home for nearly four decades, said Morley had told him of her parents getting the flu nearly a century ago.

Zelia de Carvalho Morley lived through the 1918 flu pandemic.Credit:AP

“When she was six [or] seven years old, her parents told her that people were dying in the streets. Back then, there were no antibiotics or medication. People died like flies.”

Several employees at the home suffered from COVID-19 and one had to be intubated, Cunha said. But none of the elderly residents have tested positive so far. Still, the fear of possibly infecting them was a burden for workers there.

“Now at least we’re going to have some tranquillity," Cunha said, adding that he had lost many friends and colleagues to the virus in recent months.

"We workers are no longer going to worry about passing the illness to the elderly. This is huge.”

Cemetery workers carry the remains of 89-year-old Abilio Ribeiro, who died of COVID-19, in Manaus, Amazonas state.Credit:AP

The vaccine drive comes as the country grapples with a shortage of oxygen for critically ill patients and babies in intensive care.

Five trucks carrying oxygen from Venezuela arrived in Manaus, a city of 2 million people in the Brazilian rainforest where the health system has collapsed.

Venezuela's consul in Manaus, Patricia Silva, said the trucks delivered 132,000 litres of oxygen after travelling more than 1500 kilometres to the capital of Brazil's Amazonas state.

"We, as the Bolivarian government, defend our principles of cooperation and solidarity. Solidarity among peoples will save us, especially in this terrible pandemic," Silva told journalists in Manaus.

Marcellus Campelo, secretary of health in Amazonas, said the delivery would help balance the oxygen supplies of local hospitals. Brazil has asked the US for a plane to transport oxygen to the state as patients died of asphyxia, O Estado de S.Paulo reported.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced the move Sunday night. He is a political adversary of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has drawn criticism for his handling of the crisis in Manaus as well as the pandemic in general, which has caused more than 212,000 deaths in Brazil.

Amazonas Governor Wilson Lima is an ally of Bolsonaro's, but has praised Maduro for his support.

“Any help, any donation that we are receiving is very welcome. Especially this big donation that is coming from Venezuela,” Campelo said.

Bolsonaro had earlier said he welcomed the oxygen but suggested Maduro help his own people.

The Brazilian government is one of more than 50 nations around the world that recognise opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, rather than Maduro, who maintains control over the nation.

In Venezuela, which has decreed a pandemic lockdown since March 16, there have been more than 119,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 1000 deaths related to COVID-19. Experts say the low number of cases in comparison with neighbouring nations is largely due to the country's political and economic isolation after years of multiple crisis and sanctions.


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