As the Omicron variant continues to spread rapidly and more people book in their all-important vaccine booster, veterans, along with other volunteers, are doing vital work to help the NHS deliver the programme.
Every adult in the country needs a booster dose, so if you haven't already had yours, now is the time to do it.
Just go to nhs.uk/covidvaccination to book – and you can also make an appointment for 12-15-year-olds and help older teenagers get theirs too.
Here we speak to some of the veterans about their work, starting with an ex-soldier who had two words for a man having his first jab which could inspire others to do the same…
'Even if you get five people vaccinated, that's five people who won't suffer'
Working for the ambulance service, I saw the effects of Covid-19 during the first wave – almost every patient we took in was ill with the virus. I was part of the Re:Act Disaster Response team who stepped up to help. The NHS was under the cosh at the time and I was part of the RE:ACT Disaster Response team who stepped up to help.
I helped build the Nightingale hospitals in Wales and also worked with the local council in Hereford to distribute PPE. Now I'm at the pop-up vaccination centre in Hereford. There are two of us here who are ex-military – the other guy is an ex-submariner so we've got a broad range of skills. There's not a lot that comes across our path that bamboozles us.
The first time I volunteered was on a day off from work. We were tasked with letting people know about the vaccination centre, but of course we didn't want to browbeat them so we let people come to us.
Initially people thought we were giving out lateral flow tests – we'd say, “No, we're here for boosters or your first or second vaccination.” It was quiet for the first hour, but word obviously spread around Hereford and by the end of the day I'd say we'd vaccinated about 120 people, from schoolkids upwards.
I think 99.99 per cent of people were happy to have a vaccination. I thought: “Even if you get five people vaccinated, that's five people who won't suffer." Yes, you might catch it, but you're much less likely to end up in hospital. When people ask me if I think it works, I feel like I can provide the back story for them.
We've now even had people come in for their first jabs. I asked one, “What changed your mind?” He said, ” Omicron , because it's more infectious'. I just said, "Well done."
So while I don't strong-arm people, I do tell them, "I think you should get vaccinated.”
'We all need the booster so that life can get back to normal'
“I joined the Royal Air Force in 1997 and my last posting was out in Cyprus, but I always wanted to transition to a career in the NHS.
“Back in October 2020 I joined the East of England Covid-19 mass vaccination programme and my first role was to provide support in the planning and delivery of large-scale centres, hospital hubs and community pharmacies.
“Now I'm working as the children's project manager, leading and coordinating plans. This involves collating, analysing and improving plans, reporting to the programme director and the national team, using my past experiences to collaborate, advise and implement processes.
“I'm good at seeing a problem and thinking outside the box to solve it. I can get parachuted into a project within the Covid-19 programme and am able to run with it. Every day is different, but that doesn't faze me. I'm very adaptable and flexible – and I'll give 100 per cent to achieving the common goal.
“Working with other people from the Forces means there's a great sense of camaraderie. We share the same service ethos. If there's a deadline, we'll just knuckle down and get the job done. This is not a 9-5 job. Even though I might have to get up at 5.30am to jump on a work call, I have no problem with that. I was motivated to join the Covid-19 programme by my sense of duty, and I'm really proud to be part of it. I have a passion for helping people and making sure things are completed to the highest standard. This gives me a real sense of achievement. I like being able to make a difference.
“The public response to getting boosted has been great, but there is still a long way to go. I believe the Get Boosted Now campaign is so important because we need to protect ourselves, the vulnerable and the future generations. We also need to get everyone boosted so we can get life back to normal as soon as possible.”
'One of my ex-soldiers gave me the Covid-19 jab'
“I was 17 when I joined the Navy as a medic. It was the year after the Falklands War and I thought I'd like to get involved in something for the service of the country – to do what's necessary when the time comes.
“As a Navy medic I was trained to deal with trauma from the very basic things up to the most drastic ones you could think of, like gunshots and traumatic amputations. After 25 years, I left in 2008 to join the Army, then in 2016 I moved to the NHS.
“During the pandemic I was initially asked to oversee the distribution of PPE. There were shortages across the board, and having worked overseas with the Royal Marines, my logistics knowledge came to the fore. I could make sure community midwives and health visitors had what they needed. In some cases this entailed doing the deliveries myself in the van!
“For me, the pleasure in the role was being able to provide medical staff with the assurance that they would have the equipment they needed. I felt I was making a real difference.
“When the time came to get my Covid-19 jab, it was one of my former soldiers who gave me it. That was very impressive because when I met him he was 17, wide-eyed and fresh out of the box. When I next met him he was teaching the volunteers and St John's Ambulance staff how to administer the vaccine. I was full of admiration for him. He'd stepped up as a young man and was teaching much more mature individuals. But I wasn't surprised – that's what we expected our troops to do: step into the breach, wherever the breach happens to be.
“You can't praise the veterans highly enough for getting involved in the vaccine campaign. They will serve their community in whatever circumstances, whether it's difficult or easy. You've got a group of people who drop everything as soon as they're asked, regardless of what their family commitment might be, and go and do the job. I don't think there is a better resource for the country to draw upon.”
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