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The brave veterans who volunteered to help the NHS during its Covid vaccine drive

HEROES up and down the country have responded to a different kind of call to arms – arms ready for a booster jab. A volunteer army of ex-servicemen and women has been reporting for duty, all keen to serve once again: ex-Army commandos delivering PPE, former Wrens helping at vaccine sites and retired RAF medics […] ...

HEROES up and down the country have responded to a different kind of call to arms – arms ready for a booster jab.

A volunteer army of ex-servicemen and women has been reporting for duty, all keen to serve once again: ex-Army commandos delivering PPE, former Wrens helping at vaccine sites and retired RAF medics boosting hundreds of people a day.

Reporting for duty…ex-servicemen and women are helping out at vaccine centres

Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay says: “Veterans have supported their communities as vaccinators, first responders and volunteers. Their spirit of service continues, even if they are no longer in uniform.

“I thank all those veterans for this effort and remind everyone that the best defence against Covid is to get boosted.”

Now it’s time to do your bit for your country too – and get boosted now.

‘I’m proud of what we’ve achieved’

Retired Wren Nancy Hill volunteered to help the vaccine rollout as a way to keep her family safe.

Nancy, 74, was a Wren – in the Women’s Royal Naval Service – in the 1960s, as a clerk at a time when women weren’t allowed at sea.

In June last year, she heeded the call of duty once more, assisting with the admin at her local vaccine site in Plymouth.

“I have a granddaughter working as a doctor and two granddaughters as nurses,” she says. “And this was my way of making sure that people protect them by having their jabs.”

Nancy was a Wren for three years until 1969 when she had her daughter. She then became a civil servant with the Ministry of Defence.

Now retired, she’s chair of the Association of Wrens. “Service people often want to give back to the community,” Nancy says.

“As a Scot living in England, I have great pride in what Britain has achieved with the vaccines, and I’m satisfied to have played my part, being a very small cog in a very big wheel.”

Veterans always step forward’

When ex-Army major Jake Wade, 56, arrived at a vaccine centre last year for his first jab, he got a very pleasant surprise. By complete coincidence, the man doing the honours was one of the soldiers from his old regiment.

“I couldn’t have been more impressed,” Jake says. “This was a boy who I’d met when he was 17, fresh out of the box and wide-eyed.

‘Now he was a young man, 28, stepping up and teaching St John’s Ambulance and other volunteers how to vaccinate the public.”

He adds: “I shouldn’t have been surprised, it’s what we expect our troops to do – to step into the breach.”

Having left the forces, Jake has been pitching in with the national effort to contain Covid, in his capacity as an NHS logistics manager.

When you’ve done three tours as a medic with the Royal Marines Commando Logistic Regiment, treating refugees in Kosovo and soldiers struck by mines in northern Iraq, you learn a thing or two about getting people and kit from A to B.

At the start of the pandemic he couldn’t have been better placed, being responsible for distributing vital PPE equipment for South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust.

“My logistics knowledge came to the fore to make sure that community midwives and health visitors had the PPE they needed.”

When Jake began, the healthcare staff relying on him to supply masks, visors, gowns and gloves barely had two days of stock left. But with some canny planning, he soon got that up to two weeks’ worth.

“In some cases that even entailed me going out and doing the deliveries myself in a van!” Jake recalls. “But you felt as though you were making a real difference.

“Community nurses were under a lot of stress at the time, covering the gaps left by GPs unable to do home visits. The pleasure in my role was being able to provide assurance that they wouldn’t be stuck without PPE.”

Jake is no stranger to a health crisis – he was part of a team that helped to organise British forces in Sierra Leone, West Africa, fighting the deadly outbreak of Ebola there in 2014.

His 33-year career in the armed services began as a Navy medic and he worked in a field hospital in the Saudi desert during the

Gulf War in 1991, before being redeployed to the mountains of northern Iraq. It wasn’t until 2016 that he hung up his beret, having achieved the rank of major.

He’s now a key player in Covid management for the NHS, as deputy programme lead for assurance, improvement and strategy in the East of England.

He says: “You can’t praise the veterans enough for joining the NHS’s amazing effort. They will serve their community in whatever circumstances – they always step forward to help.”

GET BOOSTED NOW

Helen Roberts, 47, a former warrant officer in the Royal Air Force, joined the East of England Regional Covid-19 Mass Vaccination Programme in October 2020.

Based in North Yorkshire, she currently works as project manager for the children’s programme (those aged 12 to 15), but is also involved in the booster rollout, helping as and when required.

Helen says: “The public response to getting boosted has been great, but there is still a long way to go.

“Getting the booster is important so we can protect ourselves, as well as vulnerable people – and future generations. We need to get everyone boosted so we can get life back to normal.”

Anyone aged 12 to 15 who is clinically at risk or who lives with someone that is immunosuppressed can now get their booster vaccine.

Three months after your first jab, you are eligible for your second; and three months after that, you can have your booster.

You can book your vaccinations at nhs.uk

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