Pride of Lancashire's NHS as 200 people a day are vaccinated against Covid-19
“This is real empowerment. We’re actually fighting the virus now, not just picking up the pieces”.
Those are the thoughts of Dr Andy Curran, a consultant in Emergency Medicine at the Royal Preston Hospital, who has been instrumental in the roll out of the Covid-19 vaccine across Lancashire this week.
Since Tuesday, between 170 and 200 people a day have received the vaccine at sites in Preston and Blackpool, with outpatients over 80, high-risk staff and care home workers currently given priority.
Dr Curran said: “There’s a cautious chink of light.
“Unfortunately we’re still seeing people die every day from this. But staff here are incredibly proud that we’re now able to do something about it, and these people have really stepped up.
“People across all departments have moved mountains to get this ready, and we’re really proud. Really doing this is about saving lives.”
A team of doctors and nurses who usually administer the flu vaccination have been preparing for the vaccine roll-out for a couple of weeks, and then worked through the weekend to set up a temporary Covid vaccination clinic in the education centre, where a lot of activity has been stepped down due to restrictions.
Pharmacy teams have also been working extra hours due to the sensitive way the vaccine has to be handled, and IT staff have been putting in overtime on a booking system.
The service is running from 7am to 7pm daily, but is only available to those with appointments.
Dr Curran explained that due to the particular way the vaccine has to be stored and handled, precise doses have to be defrosted for a certain number of people.
Once the service has worked through high-risk staff and care home workers, then appointments will be offered out to people who do not have outpatient appointments at the hospital.
Dr Curran said: “If you’re unsure whether you want it, still come along to the appointment. Coming along to the appointment doesn’t mean you have to have the vaccine, but it is a chance to discuss it with practitioners, rather than going off what you might see on Facebook or Twitter.”
In the next week, the roll-out of the vaccine will be scaled up to people who do not already have outpatient appointments or who work in health care.
This is set to involve vaccinations in other centres including GP hubs. The NHS will contact people for appointments.
Dr Curran said: “RPH is a trail-blazing site and we’ve had to hit the ground running. We’ve learnt a lot and we’re really pleased with how it’s gone.
“But this doesn’t mean we should become complacent. We’re telling all patients that this is just part of the defence. We’re still following social distancing, wearing face masks, doing face-hands-space. It’s important to remember that this vaccine isn’t 100 per cent effective, but it’s a step towards getting back to normal.”
Doreen McKeown, 81, became the first person to be vaccinated in Lancashire at the Royal Preston Hospital at 7.20am on Tuesday. The vaccine was administered by Dr Curran’s wife, Sharon, an experienced flu vaccinator.
Doreen, a grandmother-of-two from Hutton, was approached because she is over 80 and a volunteer in the oncology department at RPH.
She said she had already made up her mind she would have the vaccination in offered, and said her place as the first person to get the vaccine in Lancashire was “quite by chance”, as she opted for the first available appointment to avoid traffic and to get a car parking space.
She said: “It went very smoothly and very quickly. There was no pain and no problem. It was so well-organised.”
Like everyone who has the vaccination, Doreen will need a booster jab after 21 days, and has been told she should have immunity 10 days after that.
She said: “I will still wear a mask and follow the guidelines, but for me it means I have comfort in my own mind that I have some protection.
“When my partner John gets it, we hope to plan going away and I can hopefully restart my volunteering work. I can’t wait to get back.”
She added: “I feel pleased an honoured to have been part of this - it’s historic for Lancashire and for the world.
“I’ve had phonecalls from the Daily Mail and the Times and lots of friends have called to ask how it’s gone, so I’ve been taken aback by it all, but I’m pleased to be spreading the word.
“I really feel that unless there is a particular reason why you shouldn’t have the vaccine, then you should.”
The vaccine is from US and German-owned Pfizer/BioNTech and the UK has ordered 40 million doses in total - enough for 20 million people - with 800,000 of those being part of the first roll-out.
All those vaccinated will need a booster jab 21 days later.