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Emma Knowles, head of clinical services for health, work and wellbeing for St Helens And Knowsley, was one of the medical staff giving vaccinations on day one of the launch at St Helens Totally Wicked Rugby League Stadium on January 18.
And, as week three begins today, she says: “With every person who comes in, with every day and every week that passes now, that hope grows.
“None of us knew what to expect when we walked in, but it’s so well-organised, no-one has to wait and there is a feeling of excitement that this is putting us on the road to normality. There is a light at the end of a very dark tunnel.”
She adds: “I gave the vaccine to a 93-year-old lady who had not been out of the house for nine months, who’d had meals delivered to her door, and who had a great grandchild that she hadn’t been able to hold.
“She grabbed me by the arm and thanked me. To see the impact that this programme is having on people like her, to know we are getting there, is huge; and to be part of that is an honour and a privilege. It’s history.”
Emma, 40, who’s based at Whiston Hospital, is already a firm believer in vaccination programmes, as a key vaccinator and head of the main flu campaign for the area.
It is now her role to get staff through to the centre – the large-scale vaccination facility is being led by St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust for Merseyside and Cheshire – which is using the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to help protect people against the Covid-19 virus.
The mass vaccination effort has been described as ‘the biggest immunisation programme in health service history’.
And Emma says she is proud to be part of it.
“People who come in are a little apprehensive because they don’t know what to expect, but more than anything they are excited to get their vaccination.
“There is definitely a sense now that we are making progress, that we are moving forward and will keep going forward.
“It is a team effort and one which shows the value of the NHS and the people within it – I worked with one staff nurse who had been on a Covid ward and went in to give the vaccination on her day off. She had lost people and she wanted to see the other side.
“The overwhelming feeling now is one of positivity and I saw that, and see that, from staff and the public… and that’s a great feeling, both personally and professionally.”
Emma’s sentiments were echoed by occupational health nurse Helen Thompson who says: “The Covid vaccine is so new and to be part of administering that was phenomenal.
“Initially it was daunting, the pressure was on. But there’s a fantastic management team at the centre and everyone works so well together to make sure that we get everyone through as quickly and as efficiently as we can, while reassuring patients.”
Helen, who is returning to carry out more shifts next week, says the words she heard most while she was there were ‘thank you’.
“Everyone is so grateful and delighted to be receiving the vaccine. It was quite emotional to be sitting in front of predominantly elderly people and health care workers who said they couldn’t believe they were getting it.
“It was uplifting. There is a sense of hope now that we are turning the corner. One year on the vaccine is so significant, not just for health workers who are feeling the strain but for the general public.
“It will take time but, with the vaccination programme, I really do feel excited for the future. The vaccine has come at the right time and if we keep going forward we can get out of this and we can beat Covid.”
St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust is delighted with the way the first two weeks have gone. It says the mass vaccination centre has got off to a great start, aiming to vaccinate 1000 people a day and with an ‘extremely positive response’ in regards to uptake.
The groups that have been invited to attend a vaccination appointment so far are the over 70s and health and social care workers.
“Since we first launched, attendance for the vaccine has been tremendous and the response we’ve received from the people we’ve vaccinated has been overwhelmingly positive.
“We’ve seen an amazing team effort from everybody who has been involved in organising the set-up and delivery at the stadium, and the feedback we’re getting is a reflection of all of the hard work that the Trust, St Helens Rugby Club, St John’s Ambulance, and our volunteers have put in to ensure everything runs smoothly.
“I’m extremely proud of all the teams involved, and I hope the mass vaccination programme is a sign that the tide is starting to turn and we’ll be able to return to some sort of normality in the near future.”
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