Farnham residents were queuing up before 8am to be able to have their COVID-19 vaccine, as the town’s first vaccination service opened today (Friday, December 18).
Michael Collins, 83, was first in line and had his jab as soon as the clinic opened.
He said: “It’s some relief. I’ve been in isolation since March, with my wife, Nancy. For the last year we have lived sort of locked in.”
Mr Collins, who used to work for Mobil Oil’s marine division, cares for his wife, who is a former nurse and who used to work at the old Farnham Hospital – which was replaced by the current building where the vaccinations are taking place.
He said of getting the vaccine: “I think it will bring a normal life as we used to know it and it will stop these awful death rates. That will be the greatest thing.”
Ronald Keens, 88, and wife Dorothy, 86, were also among the first to get their first doses of the vaccine.
Mr Keens said he was “delighted” to have the jab. “The thought that we will be free to go and visit our children, is great,” he said.
“It has been a difficult year. Our hopes are for the country to get back on its feet.”
90-year-old Frederick Ford and his wife, 88-year-old Christel, were also at Farnham Hospital for their first doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine.
Frederick, a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Engineers, enjoyed spells in Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia (when it was still Malaya), Cypress, Northern Ireland and Germany during his service.
His 37-year military career meant he was able to withstand what 2020 had thrown at him. He said: “You just accept what’s going on. I don’t need to do anything. I can go in my front door and lock it down.”
The Fords have followed social distancing guidance throughout, meaning even visiting family members haven’t been allowed indoors.
Mr Ford said: “I hope we can get back to normal. We have stuck to the rules all the time and I hope we can see the pandemic through.”
Sheila Bursey, 86, was brought to have her vaccine by her daughter, Lorraine, who cares for her. Asked for her reaction, Sheila said: “I feel on top of the world, actually.”
Sheila, who used to work as a cleaner at the old Farnham Police Station, said she has been doing a lot of reading to fill her time but she was looking forward to properly welcoming family members back into her home.
She said: “My son’s an upholsterer, so he goes into people’s houses, so I can’t let him come into mine. I speak to him but I say ‘Sorry, you still can’t come in’.”
Vaccinators ready to welcome the first arrivals comprised:
- Dr Edward Wernick: A GP at Downing Street Group practice and the Farnham COVID-19 lead
- Jaz Winchcombe: A Fleet resident and specialist diabetes nurse at Ashford and St Peters Hospital who is nearing the end of her maternity leave and giving her own time to support the local COVID-19 effort.
- Dr John Rose: A previously retired GP who returned from retirement earlier in the year to support the local COVID-19 effort and who has been working on the wards at Farnham Hospital.
- Emma Boswell: The Executive Director of People and Innovation for the NHS Frimley Collaborative of Clinical Commissioning Groups, who is also a registered nurse and who donned her ‘scrubs’ to support the vaccination programme.
Dr Rose said: “The vaccination programme is the way out of this pandemic. The vaccine is highly efficacious and it’s going to begin, throughout next year, that everybody’s going to start to get better.”
Of his involvement in the programme, he said: “Dr Wernick called me in March and I came back and was working on Bourne Ward at Farnham Hospital until the end of September, and then Anstey Ward at Alton Hospital on Monday and Tuesday afternoons from April to August.
“He called me again in November to do with this and I came back again. I simply wanted to help.”
Dr Wernick said about the beginning of the vaccination programme: “It’s going really well. We’ve had everyone turning up for their appointments and there’s a mix of happiness, excitement and relief, as we’re catering to people who are over 80 and therefore at high risk from COVID-19, so many of them have essentially shut themselves away for most of this year to protect themselves.
“I’d like to thank all of those who have been involved in supporting the vaccinations, from the clinical and administrative staff from Farnham’s GP practices, to other NHS colleagues and to the local voluntary sector who have been supporting us as marshals. There’s some great teamwork going on and many people have given up their own time to make this happen.”
He added: “Many people are hoping the vaccine will bring about a return to normality, and I would echo that but I would also say that it is not going to happen overnight. The vaccination programme is going to be a lengthy process and I would ask local people to be patient and not to contact their GP practice for an appointment. Everyone will be contacted directly in due course.
“In the meantime it’s really important that people continue to follow the Hands, Face, Space infection control guidelines.”