It’s the local people that Coral Davies has welcomed through the doors of multiple vaccination centres that will forever stick in her memory beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
A former Air New Zealand cabin crew manager of 33 years, Coral was made redundant shortly after the country’s borders closed and the airport went from a bustling city to a ghost town.
“We went into lockdown and I took some time to reflect on what was important to me.”
It had been a job she’d absolutely loved, and while saddened that her high-flying career had come to an abrupt end, she felt a strong pull to give back to the community.
She applied and accepted a role as a flow co-ordinator at Birkenhead vaccination centre in May last year. Mrs Davies was able to apply her decades of experience making people feel comfortable on a plane journey to navigating people’s journeys through the site to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
There are brief encounters that still feel like they happened yesterday. “I remember a gentleman coming through... he turned to me, walking quite slowly. We offered him a wheelchair but with a sense of pride he turned to me to say, ‘thank you, I don’t need a wheelchair. I am 104 years old, I have been through two world wars and now a pandemic’.
“He said, ‘I’m going to walk through this site, I’m going to get this done, I’m going to get vaccinated’.
“I looked at him and thought, ‘that’s the strength that we all need to get through this pandemic’. It was a simple lesson but an important one.”
While later working at the Albany vaccination centre during the August Delta outbreak, she recalls a different kind of fear. Given the city was in another lockdown, there were few places for families to go.
“We had a mother and daughter who had blow-dried their hair and dressed up to come to the centre to get vaccinated, who said that this was their outing for the day.
“The centre became a place people wanted to go to. That stood out for me… that this was actually becoming a focal point in people’s lives. It made me feel proud that they were coming to see us.”
While working at the Eventfinda Stadium drive-through, which closed last month, she says there was a lady who came through with a boy for his second vaccination and neither spoke English very well.
“It was a really difficult situation… until the boy started jumping up and down in his seat, having recognised a staff member who had vaccinated him the first time. The vaccinator remembered his story and we got him vaccinated.”
Mrs Davies says it’s moments like that – and the amazing people she’s worked with - which have made the turbulent times of the past couple of years that much more rewarding.
With the border having re-opened and international flights resuming in and out of Aotearoa, she isn’t ruling out a return to the skies, though she’s also very much loving working to provide vital community health services.