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Former members of the Armed Forces came forward in their droves when the call went out to provide an army of skilled and dedicated helpers the NHS could rely on. Since then, they’ve freely given their time and the expertise that can only be picked up when you’ve selflessly served your country for years.
It was an almost superhuman effort to get millions of Brits boosted in just a few weeks
Over the past few months, they’ve set up dozens of vaccination centres around the land, coordinated supplies of everything from PPE to the vaccines themselves and even learned how to inoculate people.
And their input has been vital. After the Omicron variant was detected at the end of last year, it soon became clear that just two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine didn’t provide enough protection. Action was needed – and quickly.
To get millions of Brits boosted in just a few weeks would take a superhuman effort but our Army, Navy and RAF veterans – along with their reservist colleagues – were up to the task.
‘Across the UK, veterans supported their communities as vaccinators, first responders and volunteers over the Christmas period,’ says Steve Barclay, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. ‘This shows that their spirit of service continues even if they are now no longer in uniform. I thank all those veterans for this effort.’
Here are some of the veterans’ stories:
‘THAT SENSE OF SERVICE NEVER LEAVES YOU’
Having seen for herself the desperate plight of Covid-19 patients when volunteering in Nightingale hospitals during the first wave of the pandemic, retired Army major Sally Orange was determined to sign up to help the vaccine effort.
‘I was exposed to the devastation the virus has had on a wide variety of people in many different ways, be that isolation, grief or illness,’ she says. ‘I have also witnessed several patients, both young and older, who have been affected by the symptoms of long Covid.’
Salisbury-based Sally spent 22 years as a physiotherapist in the Royal Army Medical Corps, so was a perfect candidate to help with the booster roll-out.
Volunteer: Retired Army major Sally Orange, 48, spent 22 years as an Army physiotherapist
After completing training, the 48-year-old now volunteers whenever she has some spare time, often vaccinating the public, among other jobs.
‘It’s hard to measure the sense of purpose that volunteering gives,’ says Sally, who’s raised more than £500,000 for military charities over the years by running marathons – dressed as fruit! – all over the world.
‘As a veteran, I believe we always have that certain sense of service in us which never really leaves you, despite no longer serving.
‘Knowing that there was a mass national effort to combat the virus through the vaccine rollout, I didn’t hesitate to get involved.
‘My previous service has most definitely allowed me to fit into a different, diverse team with ease, while also being compassionate and understanding to others’ needs.’
‘EXPERIENCE FIGHTING EBOLA HAS HELPED US’
From assisting with amputations in the Gulf War to taking care of injured Kurdish refugees in Iraq, and helping to coordinate the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone, Jake Wade is used to stepping up when needed.
The 56-year-old from Hartlepool spent a quarter of a century as a leading medical assistant in the Royal Navy, before joining the Royal Army Medical Corps to work in mental health support for another eight years.
He joined the NHS in Hartlepool in 2019, overseeing the control and distribution of PPE.
Jake Wade, 56, from Hartlepool, spent 25 years as a medical assistant in the Royal Navy before joining the Royal Army Medical Corps
‘My logistics knowledge, having worked overseas with the Royal Marines, came to the fore,’ he says, ‘to make sure that community midwives and health visitors had the PPE that they needed.
‘In some cases, the job entailed me going out and doing the deliveries myself in the van. There just wasn’t anybody there to do it.’
It’s this willingness to do whatever it takes, which he learned during his time in the Armed Forces, that helped him with setting up the Regional Vaccination Operations Cell in the East Midlands.
‘There are the same thought processes involved,’ he says. ‘Most of my team are ex-services people.
‘A week or two before the vaccine programme started, we could see where it was likely to go from my experience with the Ebola crisis.
‘So I got one of my guys, who was responsible for the decontamination of Ebola in Sierra Leone, training people. Veterans will serve their community in whatever circumstances, whether it be difficult or easy. It’s instilled in them.’
‘WE’VE HELPED SAVE LIVES’
Since signing up in September 2020, Mike Quaile has helped set up more than 80 vaccination centres, including at Stadium MK in Milton Keynes.
Mike Quaile, 62, was a lieutenant-colonel in the Royal Artillery before he left in 2014
The 62-year-old spent 40 years in the Army as a lieutenant-colonel in the Royal Artillery before leaving in 2014 and working alongside Help for Heroes, coaching and supporting wounded soldiers.
For the past 15 months he’s been Estate and Logistics Lead in the East of England, helping to set up jab centres and resupply hospitals.
His experience building schools and sinking wells in Bosnia and equipping soldiers in Afghanistan all helped.
‘We were having to sift the wheat from the chaff and identify what was essential and reduce the noise of everything else,’ says the father-of-three from Salisbury.
‘That’s what [veterans] bring – task focus, a calmness and belief that the team can succeed.
‘To me it seemed important that we did something about the virus problem; this was one way I could assist.
‘Now I get a feeling I’ve contributed to however many million vaccinations that must have kept people out of hospital and will have saved people’s lives.
‘When my grandchildren say, ‘What did you do in the great pandemic?’, I’ll be able to say ‘I helped fight the virus.’
‘YOU FEEL A REAL SENSE OF ACHIEVEMENT’
Senior aircraftman James Case was delighted to be able to help the vaccination drive
When Covid struck, trombonist James Case found himself practically redundant.
The senior aircraftman usually played in the Band of the RAF College, but all concerts and parades were cancelled.
So when he was called on to head to Glasgow, he was delighted to make himself useful by vaccinating local people across the region at libraries, town halls, leisure centres and the city’s Central Mosque.
‘We had some practical training from an NHS professional and had to do hours of online theory, too,’ says James.
‘We observed doctors and nurses vaccinating people then we did our first.
‘It was fine – the training was good, and I knew what I was doing even though it was something I’d never done before.
‘We’ve been very well received by the public, and you feel a real sense of achievement.’
‘I CAN SEE THAT VACCINATION WORKS’
Army veteran Nigel Jones, who volunteered in a pop-up vaccination centre in Hereford, has seen first hand how effective the jabs are.
The former Royal Signals corporal, from near Abergavenny in Wales, began working for the Ambulance Service in 2014, and now sees far fewer coronavirus patients.
‘People are still presenting because they’ve got the symptoms, but they’re nowhere near as bad as the first wave, and that is all down to the vaccinations,’ says the 57-year-old. ‘I don’t know the science of it, but it seems to be working.’
Army veteran Nigel Jones, from Abergavenny in Wales, says he can see the jabs are working
‘THEY CELEBRATED WHEN THEY SAW US’
When Danielle Harper-Dixon and her colleagues arrived to start immunising people in Lincoln, the waiting crowds made their delight known.
‘We had an amazing moment when our team arrived,’ says the 35-year-old flight lieutenant in the RAF. ‘We were all in uniform, and the volunteers and people waiting for their vaccination gave us a round of applause. It was very surprising and made us feel very proud.
‘People are so relieved to be getting it and, in the run-up to Christmas, it meant that so many were excited about being able to see loved ones.’
Danielle Harper-Dixon, 35, says the crowds cheered when she and her colleagues arrived
GET BOOSTED NOW
If you still haven’t had your booster – or if you are yet to have your first or second vaccination – it’s essential you book it now
■ Every adult in the UK now needs to get the booster for protection against the Omicron variant.
■ It will also help to stop you becoming seriously ill with Covid-19 in the longer term.
■ Those aged 16 and above are eligible for the booster three months after their second Covid-19 jab.
■ You can book an appointment at a vaccination centre or pharmacy online, or go to a walk-in centre without booking.
For more information or to book an appointment, go to nhs.uk/covidvaccination
■ This article is part of a paid-for partnership with the UK Government
Source: Daily Mail