Called onto the ward for a 6am appointment to make history, she wasn’t a celebrity, or an individual picked out to make a particular point. Just an ordinary pensioner in Coventry, a grandmother of four and former jewellery shop assistant originally from Northern Ireland.
Mrs Keenan said that the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 jab was the best birthday present she could possibly receive because it meant she could finally look forward to spending time with family and friends in the New Year.
“My advice to anyone offered the vaccine is to take it – if I can have it at 90 then you can have it too,” she said. And only the most desperate cynic or fervent anti-vaxxer would take issue with that level of pragmatism.
Her television appearance early on Tuesday morning was followed by others; older people and those with life-threatening conditions, including cancer, who were first in the queue to receive the vaccine.
In Yorkshire, Anthony Moore, an 82-year-old retired bricklayer, spoke from the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield. He said that being chosen “felt like winning the pools”.
Sheffield Teaching Hospitals is one of more than 50 NHS hubs around the country to begin administering the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. Patients aged 80 and over already attending hospital as an outpatient are the first to be vaccinated there, with unfilled appointments being used for high-risk healthcare workers.
However, whilst all these positive stories remind us of the sacrifices so many have made this year, we should keep a sense of perspective. For every Margaret and Anthony, there is an elderly or vulnerable person worrying about what is going to happen next.
I had a sobering phone call with a friend earlier this week. Her parents are both in their late eighties and her father suffers from severe dementia. Neither have left the house since March; her mother would like them both to have the vaccination so that eventually, they can at least feel safe enough to go for a walk or pop into their local shops. Her father doesn’t really understand, but trusts his wife to make the right decision.
The good news about the vaccine roll-out is being tempered by their fears and concerns about where they might be in the queue, and how they might receive it. Are they vulnerable enough to be prioritised? Will they be covered by the first wave – or will they have to wait for the other vaccines, including the one developed in Oxford by Astra Zeneca, to come on stream?
How does the roll-out scheme work and who will tell them what to do and when? These are practical concerns in families across the country, not further evidence of the ‘me-first’ attitude we’ve become weary of elsewhere this year.
Every day my friend speaks to her mum and dad, either on the telephone or through the window. And every day they ask about it. The vaccine represents a lifeline, a chance to re-engage safely with the outside world, but they are caught in limbo, waiting for a letter or a call. I know it is early days, but this lack of information needs addressing.
My friend has contacted their GP practice, but so far has been unable to find any reassuring news to tell her parents, There are fears, too, from care homes. It’s said that it will be difficult to administer the vaccine to residents because as the Prime Minister himself admits, getting it out there is an “immense logistical challenge”. Boris Johnson said last week that it would take “months” before all of the most vulnerable were protected, partly because of having to keep the vaccine at -70C.
There are also limitations imposed by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) – there is not yet approval for a safe way to break up the packs of 975 doses, meaning that it will be difficult to send the vaccine from hospital deep freezes into the community. GPs are understood to be receiving the dose in bulk, but not all will have access to the necessary storage facilities.
It has been reported that the NHS communications team and Ministers plan to enlist celebrities and ‘influencers’ with big social media followings in a major campaign to persuade reluctant members of the public to have the Covid vaccine.
Apparently, they are drawing up a list of “very sensible” famous faces to woo the still undecided or cynical. I suggest they stop scratching their ‘clever’ heads about this one and focus on developing a clear communications strategy to inform those who really are pinning their hopes on a shot in the arm – literally.
Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you’ll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers. Click here to subscribe.