When we look back on our national vaccination programme, I hope one image will live long in the memory. It’s from Salisbury Cathedral. As orderly queues funnelled in to receive a life-saving jab, Handel’s Largo from Xerces rung out from the organ as a soothing accompaniment to calm nerves and keep spirits high. The 800-year old place of worship is one of the dozens of large-scale, mass vaccination centres already up and running in every region of the UK, with more on the way.
For us here in East Devon, the RD&E, Exmouth Tennis Centre, Seaton Community Hospital, Exminster Limes Surgery, St Leonards Medical Practice, St Thomas Health Centre, Mount Pleasant Health Centre, Clare House Surgery Tiverton are amongst those offering the vaccine. Additionally, Westpoint opened as a regional vaccination centre this week in a huge boost to the rollout.
At the time of writing this, 4.9 million people have been vaccinated in the UK, including more than half of those aged 80 and over and more than half of elderly care home residents. 98,234 people have been vaccinated in Devon. A remarkable achievement!
Over the next few weeks, I want to use my column to shed some more light on the vaccine programme for us in East Devon, go beyond the figures, and help answer some common misconceptions.
First, vaccinating the top two clinically vulnerable groups remains the absolute priority. There is not an even distribution across the country of people aged 80 and over, nor is there an even distribution of care homes.
Local GPs are leading the development of the vaccination programme in East Devon. They are well aware of our local demographics and have built their plans to meet this need.
Ministers and the NHS continue to prioritise the vaccine to any areas of the country still vaccinating people aged 80 and over – and quite rightly too.
Second, if you are registered with a GP you have no need to worry about being contacted. GP practice systems are robust from the usual winter flu jabs and you will be contacted as soon as it is your turn. It is not possible to forward book dates and times for subsequent priority groups.
You can wait to be vaccinated by your local GP service or hospital, or you may be written to slightly sooner with the option to arrange a vaccination at a large scale centre. It is entirely your choice.
Third, despite logistical challenges, good progress has been made in vaccinating residents of our care homes across the constituency. Care home residents may require consent from relatives and to minimise the risk of infection GPs and staff try to do a home all in one day.
It’s undoubtedly hard work trying to track down the power of attorney, and then take the time to reassure residents who might have understandable anxieties about the process. The Oxford vaccine is much easier to transport, without the need to be stored at very cold temperatures and is a real game changer in bringing the vaccine directly to residents.
One of the first to receive the vaccine at Salisbury Cathedral was an RAF fighter pilot, who recalled having jabs in Egypt after the war “which knocked me over for a week”. Former Flight Sergeant Louis Godwin declared: “This vaccine is nothing, you don't feel a thing... so anybody that needs one and can get one, I would say go ahead.”
When restrictions allow, I hope I can spend more time with my family and I know many of you feel the same. We all long for normality and I’m glad that we’re a step closer every day.
This column first appeared in the Exmouth Journal on Wednesday 27th January 2021.