The past year or so has been incredibly tough – but the arrival of millions of approved vaccines in centres across the country gives us a real light at the end of the tunnel.
Vaccines are at the centre of the UK Government’s plan to a route back to normality. Some 407m doses have been ordered, with multiple vaccines approved for use. A nationwide rollout is underway, with more than 10 million people having already received their first jab.
Why the vaccine matters
Vaccinations are the best way to protect people from Covid-19, and its variants. This is because vaccines are carefully designed to prevent disease, rather than treat the problem once people are already infected and unwell.
Just like any other vaccine, those approved so far by the UK’s independent medicines regulator work by teaching our bodies how to defend themselves against attack. It’s much safer for your immune system to learn how to protect itself through a vaccine, rather than catching the virus itself.
If you’ve had the vaccine and taught your body how to fight off Covid-19, you have a frontline defence if you encounter the virus naturally as society reopens.
How it’s being rolled out
The Covid-19 vaccination programme is the biggest vaccination programme in NHS history, and the UK is one of the world leaders in getting vaccines where they need to be – in the arms of those who need it.
NHS England and NHS Improvement, NHS Wales, NHS Scotland, and Health and Social Care Northern Ireland have decades of experience in delivering large scale vaccination programmes, while the armed forces continues to support the delivery of vaccines across the UK – from Aberystwyth to Aberdeen.
Approved vaccines will continue to be available across the UK, free at the point of delivery, according to need rather than ability to pay. The UK Government is aiming to offer the first dose of the vaccine to everyone in the first priority cohorts, advised by the Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisation.
A national effort
The NHS has hundreds of thousands of incredible people who are all playing their part in the vaccination programme, as well as ensuring the rest of the Health Service continues to function well.
But the programme also needs plenty of support – and across the country there are people getting involved making a massive difference. City A.M. spoke to two of them – helping in very different ways.
“We all need to stick with it”
Rajan Bindra, 44, is an aviation consultant in Slough – but right now, he’s helping co-ordinate the logistics at the Salt Hall Activity Centre, one of the many regional vaccination centres.
“I was in charge of managing the car park which is the first port of call for anybody who comes along,” he explains, “I wanted people to see my smiling eyes behind a mask welcoming them so they were put at ease. We made a point of referring to them as ‘customers’ or ‘guests’ because we wanted to treat everyone with dignity and respect.”
Although his job is quite high powered, Bindra found himself part of a large team of volunteers from all walks of life.
“I have some skills but everybody can contribute to this. I was working with school teachers and young people who were on furlough. You name it, they were there and that for me made it really special.”
He was actually present when his 80-year-old mum Surindira turned up for her vaccination.
“When she arrived I looked at her and thought, ‘Do I need to ask for her for her ID?’. I did anyway. Then she asked if I could park her car for her. I had to tell we weren’t offering a valet service!”
Bindra has just begun a new job but hopes to support the vaccine campaign when he can.
“There was this interconnected ecosystem of volunteers supporting each other. It will actually be nice to do it when it warms up a bit. And it’s going to be happening then because this is a long-haul project and we all need to stick with it.”
“I’m really proud to have done my bit”
Lieutenant Commander Ruth Fleming, 46, is a data scientist at the University of Swansea – but is also a Royal Navy reservist.
It’s with that hat on that she was deployed as part of Operation Rescript – the largest UK peacetime military operation to support the UK Government’s Covid-19 response.
The deployment is known as a “MACA” – Military Aid to Civilian Authorities, which sees the military step in to help local and national government in an emergency.
She has used her military skills to advise on the logistics side of the vaccine rollout, in addition to supporting Wales’ efforts to provide testing to local communities.
“We were assisting where we could – not telling (anybody) how to do anything, but suggesting how we could assist in making the process easier.
“You have to look at issues like population density and the nature of the population who are receiving the jab. That way you can hit the targets that are set.
“That includes questions like whether you move people or the vaccine,” she says.
Ruth has used all her military experience to help, “In particular, logistics officers have to think of the final mile. On a ship, the hardest part is getting your parts from the ship to the port. And that’s one of the perspectives we bring.”
Ruth is looking forward to getting the jab when she can. Her in-laws have been vaccinated, and her parents will be next up on the Government’s rollout.
Ruth had to balance family life with her role, but she says knowing the vaccination meant an “end was in sight” made it easier.
“In the lead-up to Christmas things were hotting up in terms of Covid. I was working really long hours,” she says. Her son was wondering why she was working so hard.
“Every mother tells white lies, so I told him I was coming up with a plan to help Santa Claus come in and out of houses on Christmas Eve,” she says.
The best Christmas present the UK could receive is people like Ruth helping us back to normality!
It’s not just Rajan and Ruth. Right across the country all sorts of people are working in different ways to deliver the programme.
Deidre Webb, 57, from Belfast, is Director of Nursing at the Public Health Agency Northern Ireland. She’s been struck by the reactions of patients to getting jabbed.
“People have been so emotional to be receiving the jab, especially the older people. It is quite touching – this evidently means a lot to people.
“The emotion people most share is relief,” she tells us.
And in Scotland, the Army are chipping in too.
Calum MacLeod, a 27 year-old lieutenant in the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, is using his expertise to set-up and operate vaccination centres.
He’s been mainly based in Glasgow, but there are teams either working in or soon to start working in Lothian, Fife and the borders.
“I’m from the local area and so it feels really good to be working in order to get these vaccinations out to the local populace as soon as possible.”
Every corner of UK society is helping. And, in their own way, so is everybody who gets the vaccine!