On December 8, 2020, 90-year-old grandmother Margaret Keenan became the first person in the world to receive the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine after its clinical approval.
The historic syringe was administered by May Parsons, a Filipino nurse who worked at the local Keenan Hospital in Coventry, and marked the start of the UK nationwide program.
A year later, more than 51 million first doses of the vaccine, as well as more than 46 million second doses and 20 million additional doses, were given in the UK.
“Looking back over a year, I am extremely proud of how the brilliant NHS staff – with our own challenges and difficulties in caring for our Covid and non-Covid patients – managed to achieve such an incredible achievement provide. “Tells Parsons of HuffPost UK. “There’s more to be done and I encourage everyone to take their NHS Covid-19 vaccinations, first, second and booster, to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.”
The monumental effort is thanks to 92,000 NHS employees like Parsons who have administered vaccinations in addition to their regular roles.
However, the rollout would not have been possible without the additional work of 118,000 volunteers who have spent more than 1.9 million hours of their time protecting their communities.
And on the occasion of the anniversary, we want to celebrate each and every one of them – and find out more about their voluntary work.
Jacob King – PA Images via Getty Images
Margaret Keenan and May Parsons got back together in September 2021.
Sarah Johnson, a 48-year-old who works at the educational publisher, decided to volunteer in March this year after several family members and colleagues were affected by the virus.
“I felt like I had to do something instead of sitting at home and rolling,” she says.
Johnson volunteers at the Maidenhead Vaccine Center on Sundays and arrives at 7:45 a.m. for kick-off at 8 a.m. The team receives a short briefing in which important topics – such as the cake and biscuit offers of the day – are discussed. You will then assign tasks.
The role of a volunteer is many, says Johnson, and that’s part of the joy. “I will do anything and everything from checking patients into the numerous NHS systems, checking appointments, making small talk with anxious patients, helping people who cannot walk, checking people after they have been vaccinated, pouring water, folding leaflets; cleans chairs, wipes desks, wipes away even more things, helps people with the app, gel hands and the big prize … distributes stickers. You’ll be surprised how many grown men love a sticker, ”she says.
Saying “thank you” from members of the public when they leave is enough payback, Johnson says.
Sarah Johnson has had some memorable moments as a volunteer.
Her favorite part of volunteering is watching the center change as different generations come into question, “from older folks who take it without flinching to teenagers getting an Insta story”.
“I saw a teenager playing with their parents on a two-hour break and pulling out a PlayStation, which was something,” she recalls.
There were also touching moments, like the time she spent with a woman who was crying because she had just lost her husband. And some memorable ones too, like when she helped an old guy with the app and discovered porn on his phone.
Volunteering isn’t always smooth, however, and on one particularly challenging day, Johnson was faced with an anti-Vaxxer yelling, “You’re all going to die!” with the team. As she puts it: “We don’t.” But overall, putting the high vis on every week has been a rewarding experience.
Stephanie Bosset, a 41-year-old freelance broadcast journalist, shares her passion for volunteering. She began working as a steward at Downham Health Center in south east London in March and then qualified as a vaccination advisor. “I wanted to do as much as I could to support the vaccination effort,” she says.
Bosset’s voluntary role now includes administering all Covid-19 vaccines as well as flu vaccines. She says there are too many good memories to count.
“It’s wonderful to be part of a group of people determined to help their community and it’s great to meet and chat with hundreds of people who come in to get their shots,” she says . “And it’s always satisfying when someone comes in, afraid of needles and very nervous, and then goes about the vaccination with a smile on their face and relieved.”
Stephanie Bosset started out as a steward and is now trained in vaccine delivery.
For Alice-May Purkiss, a 33-year-old freelance creative who volunteered at the start of the pandemic, it meant taking care of people who were alone for months.
“In the early clinics, some of these people hadn’t seen anyone for months because they were older and had shielded themselves. We would take care of them as soon as possible and take good care of them, ”says Purkiss, who volunteered at a center in south London.
She was inspired to volunteer because she had seen firsthand the effort put into setting up the clinics. Her husband is a general practitioner practice manager and worked seven days a week to get the program off the ground in her district.
“I knew what a tremendous effort it took to get the clinics together,” she says, “and I’m a freelancer so it was really the least I could do to avoid a couple of Saturdays or Sundays to drive out and Give up a few hours of my time to help. “
Alice-May Purkiss says the atmosphere among the volunteers is optimistic.
Volunteering at the vaccination center had the added benefit of increasing your own wellbeing – an opinion shared by several of the volunteers.
“Most of the days I was in the clinic, I felt really happy, like we were going to turn the corner and see a change,” she says. “It just felt so optimistic – maybe a little cautious – for both the vaccinated and the staff.”
The vaccination program was also supported by former NHS staff who came out of retirement to help, and Janet Price, a former NHS physical therapist, was happy to do so.
“I had a strong feeling that vaccination was the way to go,” she says. “After I retired from active service in the NHS, partly due to physical limitations, and was therefore unable to return to the front lines, I was able to do so to help with the situation.”
Price, who is in her sixties and volunteered at the Taunton Racecourse Vaccination Center in Somerset, describes her contribution to the program as “the proudest I’ve been a part of”. [in] in my lifetime ”.
“I made new friends for life from some of the other volunteers,” she says. “I also think that the scientists who made vaccine production possible deserve far more credit.”
To address the Omicron variant, the NHS is stepping up its vaccine campaign with accelerated booster vaccinations – and needs paid staff and volunteers to do so.
Around 10,000 new jobs are being advertised, including vaccination staff, administrative staff and healthcare workers.
The Royal Voluntary Service and St. John are now working to attract the support of more than 42,000 volunteers. When you feel inspired to get involved, search for “NHS Vaccine Team” to find out about opportunities near you.
But first we want to toast the people who have helped us so far – we owe them a lot.