HEALTH Secretary Sajid Javid was at the sharp end, joining The Sun’s Jabs Army volunteers for a stint at a Covid vaccine centre.
He praised the “incredible dedication” of our willing stewards and urged more people to sign up to join in the work.
We launched our latest campaign, Jabs Army 2, a month ago to help with booster injections and vaccines for 16 and 17-year-olds — and so far 1,199 more men and women have signed up to do their bit at centres across the country.
The minister chatted to staff and volunteers at the University of Central London’s Bidborough House facility as our army of helpers became Jav’s Army for the day.
He said: “Thank you so much for what you are doing. I know you’re about to get really busy here. It’s been great for me to come here and see it working in practice and how smooth the operation is.
“Everything you are doing with the vaccinations is what is making a difference. This is what will get us back to normal lives, seeing loved ones and going back to our daily business.
“I just want to thank you, both those working full time and volunteering. I’ve met some incredible people today. Please remember the incredible difference you are making day in, day out.
"Thank you to The Sun’s Jabs Army for coming together and helping in such a special way.”
Mr Javid was shown the centre by former intensive care unit matron Debs Scott, who told him how the vaccines drive relied on the unpaid marshals — now more important than ever, to help with the booster process.
Debs, clinical lead for mass vaccination, said: “The reason I’m on this programme is because I was an intensive care matron and we had a really tough time in the first wave.
“This is a way to stop people ending up in intensive care, which is horrible for the patient, their families and the staff. It’s lovely to be part of something positive after such an horren-dous period.”
She added that working with our volunteers had been humbling — many having personal reasons, including losing loved ones, for signing up.
Our original Jabs Army campaign, launched on New Year’s Day, saw us partner with the Royal Voluntary Service to recruit 50,000 helpers — a target we smashed.
This is what will get us back to normal lives, seeing loved ones and going back to our daily business.
Our volunteers marshal car parks and queues, wipe chairs and provide friendly faces.
By the time we launched Jabs Army 2 a month ago, nearly 66,000 had already signed up, at some 900 centres.
But more help is now urgently needed — also because the end of furlough means many of our original helpers are now busy returning to their regular jobs. There are areas in England desperate for new recruits — from Bradford to Northampton.
Staff at the centre Mr Javid visited are now administering some of the UK’s first booster vaccines and he saw one given to medical student and volunteer vaccinator Xane Safdar.
The 20-year-old opted to sign up as he thought it would be valuable experience as he works towards becoming a doctor.
Mr Javid also met Anne-Marie Garbutt, who volunteered after seeing our Jabs Army campaign. The part-time council worker credits her two aunties, both nurses in Middlesbrough, for inspiring her with their efforts during the pandemic.
Anne-Marie has severe hypermobility and a balance disorder but wanted to help, and praised the NHS for enabling this with special accommodation.
She said: “I wanted to do my bit for the country and this is our way out. The quicker we all help, the quicker we get out of this horrible situation and The Sun’s Jabs Army is a great way to get the message across.
“People need to know they can volunteer if they have a disability. I do and I love it. I go all over the place, wherever needed.”
After his visit, Mr Javid added: “The best part of this job is meeting the people who work in our fantastic NHS. I love the volunteers, who have come forward at their county’s greatest time of need. I love their infectious can-do attitude. But we still need more people to help. If you’re thinking about it, we need you.”
He also called his new job his toughest yet. On the issue of doctors not returning to ordinary face-to-face appointments, he said: “GPs have a tough job and I think everyone can understand why, during the height of the pandemic, they couldn’t meet people in the normal way.
“But now we are heading back to normal, there is an expectation of people to have a choice about whether they can have a face-to-face meeting with their GP, or some might prefer video or telephone calls.
“It’s really important to give people that choice and so we’re working with our GP colleagues and friends to see what more can be done.”
Bidborough House can administer up to 1,000 jabs of Pfizer a day and started giving out booster vaccines on September 20, alongside second vaccinations.
Also at the site was clinical lead Abigail Tapfumaneyi, on a secondment from her regular job as an intensive care nurse.
She said: “The volunteers are really important. They are the ones advocating for the vaccine, showing people round and helping to calm nerves.”
How to sign up…and where you’re needed
REGISTER online at nhsvolunteerresponders.org.uk. You will be asked to download the GoodSAM Responder app, which will match you to a role. You need commit to only two six-hour shifts a month.
You will be in a team with NHS staff and volunteers. Expenses will be paid, no experience/qualifications needed. The Royal Voluntary Service make background checks.
- Go to nhsvolunteerresponders.org.uk
- Wandsworth, SW London
- Hillingdon, W London
- Merton, S London
- N London
- Kensington & Chelsea, W London
- Harrow, W London
- Milton Keynes
- Lambeth, S London
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