We owe so much to science. After almost a year with our freedoms curtailed, there’s light at the end of the tunnel as the vaccination rollout continues at an impressive pace.
The goal of offering a vaccine to priority groups 1-4 by 15th February was met. A remarkable 15.5 million jabs have been administered so far.
Hitting this ambitious target means we have been able to offer a vaccine to those most vulnerable to coronavirus, including care home residents and staff. Take-up among the over 70s has been above 90%!
While supply continues to be the rate limiting factor and the rollout is not without its challenges, the main plan is to have vaccinated all the over 50s by the end of April.
I’ve spoken to many people in Devon who’ve had their first and in some cases, second dose.
Every single one of them told me it felt good to get protected, some overwhelmed with emotion after a really difficult year. Some told me they just want to hug their grandchildren again, others longed to feel safe enough to go to their favourite restaurant when it reopens. I know I’ve drawn up a list of businesses I plan to visit in person in East Devon when restrictions allow.
Some of these conversations were over Teams or Zoom during one of my regular surgeries, others were during visits to some of the places delivering the vaccination in East Devon.
Westpoint was transformed within a matter of days from the venue which is known for showcasing the best of our county in the Devon County Show to a fully functioning regional vaccination centre. I was recently invited to visit and the scale, pace and dedication of all the staff and volunteers was a joy to behold. It’s run like clockwork by the RD&E and staff from the hospital told me they were thrilled to be part of the vaccination effort.
I’m proud to represent a constituency with a mass vaccination centre, one that ensured the South West led the way in reaching the over 80s ahead of every other UK region.
The first place in East Devon to rollout the vaccine was because of many local GP practices working together. The East Devon Vaccination Centre at the Exmouth Tennis Centre is a really smooth experience and you are greeted with a smile by one of the many volunteers helping out.
The centre has been transformed thanks to the handiwork of local firm Brooklands Events. You’ll find the company’s owner, Dave Moore, now working as a volunteer on the ground, guiding people into the car park and ensuring GPs are supplied with coffee and biscuits too!
Just a few miles down the road, Lewis Pharmacy in Exmouth have adapted their premises with one half providing vaccinations and the other half open as usual as a pharmacy. Martyn and the team are working incredibly hard with nurses from Exmouth Community Hospital and volunteers from Exmouth Friends in Need.
You can help them all by keeping your original appointment to avoid no-shows and duplications. That way, everywhere offering a jab can vaccinate as many people, as quickly as possible.
It’s worth pausing to reflect on the enormous effort involved in Devon’s vaccination programme.
NHS staff, doctors, nurses and others have experienced one of the most difficult years in healthcare, with many witnessing people lost to loved ones before their time. Meanwhile, hundreds of volunteers, some of whom aren’t far off the ages of those being vaccinated, sign up to stand in the cold to make sure people get a warm welcome as they arrive for their jab.
As we look ahead to our hard-fought freedoms returning, spare a thought for those who couldn’t stay at home and helped us through this ongoing battle. We owe them so much, but a decent pint or glass of wine when the pubs reopen may suffice for some.
This column first appeared on Devon Live on Thursday 18th February 2021 and in the Express & Echo newspaper in the same week.