It’s a year since lockdown began and the war against Covid-19 (coronavirus) goes on.
Thousands of people have visited Bedford’s three vaccination units where hundreds of volunteers are helping staff with the roll out seven days a week.
One volunteer, based at the vaccination hub at Bedford Heights on Manton Lane, sends this report from the front line in the fight against the virus.
If you ever needed evidence of who or what put ‘Great’ into Great Britain you only have to visit one of Bedford’s vaccination centres.
Extraordinary times call for extraordinary effort and even more extraordinary people.
The virus is out there but the fluorescent jackets manning the town’s three sites are on its case.
Outside its been -4c, thick snow, heavy rain, howling, bitterly cold winds but the army of volunteers easing people into the warmth for a Coronavirus jab are undaunted.
Inside, there is another indefatigable battalion of heroes, the admins, the gentlefolk cleaning every chair once its occupant has moved on, dishing out sanitiser, providing reassurance… and then there are the ‘jabbers’.
The ‘jabbers’ between them are getting through more than 700 a day in one centre. Long days, hard work, but a smile never leaves their faces. Professional to the nth degree.
It is probably the biggest coming together of folk since the last war, thirty-six people a day, all volunteers, are required to simply to organise the car park, the flow into the centre and to see that a ‘jabber’ is never without an arm to put a serum into. It’s non-stop.
Each person involved needs to take a covid lateral flow test at least every 72 hours. Most have had their jabs, but many would-be vulnerable due to their age so protection while operating in close proximity to the public is key.
It runs like clockwork, three shifts daily, 8 am to 8 pm, taking into account changeover it’s a 4.5 hour day and routinely you see the same names on the rota three or more times a week.
“A right old army”
The volunteers come from all walks of life, some helping while their businesses are closed, others because they are just so pleased to be able to do something to help the country out of this infernal crisis.
For some its a release from the viral prison cell to which this dreadful disease had condemned them. At last social contact, talking to other people ‘live’ and face-to-face.
It’s a right old army, Bedfordshire Fire Service helped set up the centres, the vaccinators come and go from all over.
I had my jab from a lovely guy who teaches medicine. Some staff have been seconded from other roles, while the operation has been boosted by the charming cabin crew from Easyjet who have been furloughed by the airline.
They’d like to do even more but despite recently being trained to jab they are, for some reason, not allowed. Who wouldn’t want to fly with this lovely bunch?
And then there’s the great British public.
They flock in their thousands, some are joyous it’s their turn to have their vaccine, some shed tears, others unsure and nervous. I burst into song and dance to reassure one lady it did me no harm.
And it didn’t. Not even a headache, just a slightly sore arm, but no worse than if you’d caught it on any sharp object.
Some are too keen to get the jab, there are daily requests from people who turn up looking to take up any spare serum, others are rejected because they are unable to provide evidence they are eligible.
The first step to freedom
Sadly one or three have tried to blag their way in and failed. It was always going to be the case.
It’s a tight ship and the organisation is second to none, even when absent-minded folk turn up hours late or hours early they are welcomed with open arms.
Some have been seen running to a centre because they were two minutes beyond their appointment time.
So many are just relieved to be there, the first step to freedom and maybe a near-normal life.
People drop off cakes as a ‘thank you’
Covid case numbers and deaths in Bedford have been dropping like a stone so it’s hard not to share their optimism.
The darkness and cold of February and thermal underwear are gone, and the magnificent band of supervisors in the car park are enjoying warmer March weather.
On some days are cheered by the kindness of locals who drop off cakes, biscuits, bags of bananas, boxes of sweets and so on as a thank you gesture.
There’s no doubting the public’s gratitude, thousands have gone through my centre and only two people have been rude to me, while another got the hump over their appointment delay.
Surely an extra ten minutes wasn’t worth stressing over in the midst of a pandemic.
The exercise to innoculate not only those from Bedford. we’ve had people come from as far as Derby, Wellingborough, lots from St Neots and Milton Keynes, is destined to go on for some time.
And as a bonus, friendships are being forged between volunteers and staff alike.
Today we are told our centre is likely to be closed for three weeks, there is a genuine sadness about the place, we are winning and no one wants to stop.
It’s a privilege and a humble experience to be among everyone who has made this vaccine roll out so successful in the town. Everyone is a legend.
Such a truly spirited effort in a war on an invisible, deadly enemy and yes, it’s now easier than ever to see who put Great into Britain… it’s the people.