Yet while nations fret over securing access to a vaccine, the potential geopolitical implications mean nothing in this ward. “To volunteer is an act of love, to donate a little of yourself to people,” said Abranches. Like many healthcare workers, she has been separated from her family for months of Brazil’s pandemic, in order to avoid spreading the virus, and often failed to hold back her tears when asked about the loved ones she missed.
“The loneliness is greater of the patients who are suffering,” she said, as if to check her own solitude. “Being here for the whole period, seeing patients die — often without saying goodbye to their families — that moved us all here. I largely wanted to help, and the vaccine trial needs people like us, at high risk of contamination.”
As a dentist at Hospital Sao Paulo, her days are spent immersed in infected saliva, which puts her among the highest-risk subjects that the trial could have chosen when she was injected in late June. Many others in her ward have also enrolled in this globally vital trial.
As we tour their daily routine of life-saving procedures — a tracheotomy and extubation in just 30 minutes — more staff reveal they’ve had the jab, and endure the routine checks and testing that follow. One is going to receive the trial vaccine this week. Another is thinking about it. Their boss, Professor Flavia Machado, said she is about the thousandth recipient.
Safety procedures on the ward remain strict. They don’t know yet if the vaccine works. And because it is a double blind trial, none knows whether they’ve had the vaccine, or a placebo.
Developing vaccines at “warp speed”
So it is that after five months of mitigating the suffering of one of the world’s worst-hit cities, the medical workers of São Paulo are now asked to help bring hope to the rest of the world.