"This is what science can do" - Prof Liesl Zühlke on getting the COVID-19 vaccine
Professor Liesl Zühlke had her COVID-19 vaccine on 26 February 2021 at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town. She shares her experience of the COVID-19 pandemic so far, and encourages all of us to have the vaccine when it is our turn.
Listen to the Discovery podcast with Prof Zühlke as she explains why receiving a COVID-19 vaccine meant so much to her here.
"When your SMS comes, go and get vaccinated"
Prof Liesl Zühlke, an award-winning professor in paediatric cardiology and a leader in cardiovascular medicine on the African continent, encourages all South Africans to get their vaccines when it's their turn.
"These vaccines have been tested, they've been looked at with great scientific scrutiny, we are getting information about them all the time, and I'm proud that South Africans have chosen the vaccine based on scientific evidence relating to our variants," she says.
"I would very strongly encourage people to be vaccinated, to encourage their friends and family to be vaccinated," she adds, "and to realise that globally, vaccines are the pinnacle of health intervention methods."
"Really, when your SMS comes to say you're ready for your vaccine, please go and get vaccinated."
"We're getting this vaccine so we can serve our community even better"
Prof Zühlke works at the Red Cross Children's Hospital as well as Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town - where she had her COVID-19 vaccine on 26 February 2021.
"I was excited," she says. "It was a real moment to say, 'This is what science can do, we're part of this, and we're getting this vaccine so we can serve our community even better going forward'."
Prof Liesl Zühlke receiving her vaccine on 26 February 2021.
"I'm now part of the vaccination team, and being able to vaccinate many of my colleagues really means a great deal to me," she adds. "I went home on that first day after working on the vaccination team and I really felt that I saved lives. My colleagues can now work without fear of developing severe COVID-19."
Prof Liesl Zühlke vaccinates her colleagues against COVID-19.
"Working was even more of a joy than usual"
In 2008, Prof Zühlke's drive and commitment earned her a Discovery Foundation Academic Fellowship to do her PhD in Paediatric Cardiology at the University of Cape Town. Over a decade later, she faces the COVID-19 pandemic with the same fierce energy.
"It's hard to believe it's just a little over a year ago that we went into our first lockdown. I remember very clearly starting to watch reports from the World Health Organization in the evenings at the beginning of 2020 to try and understand what was happening in the world and how it was going to affect us," she says.
Prof Zühlke and her surgeon husband found solace in their work during the first lockdown. "It was extremely helpful to go to work every day. It was our way of getting out of the house, continuing to serve and do our jobs, and to see other people," she explains.
"Working was even more of a joy than usual, as being at work reminded us of what was happening in the country and the world, how our patients and friends were being affected, and helped us to cope with the sadness we faced when we started losing colleagues to COVID-19."
To be of service is a powerful motivator
Prof Zühlke explains how the pandemic impacted her work. "Our child patients were not as affected as our adult patients but it certainly affected our work. We were not able to do as many cardiac procedures as usual, we couldn't see our patients in the clinic, and the knock-on effects of those changes in our programme will be felt for many years to come," she explains.
"What we did do at our hospital was to start an adult screening programme for COVID-19 which, being a paediatric hospital, we didn't have in place, and we have had over 800 visits," she adds.
How did she cope? "What keeps me motivated is the possibility of work, of service, of doing the best for our patients and our staff," she says. "And from a personal point of view, I became obsessed with sport and exercise over the course of the pandemic. That gave me the energy to cope when things were tough."