Published: 13:09, 15 December 2020
| Updated: 17:03, 15 December 2020
Elderly patients on the Isle of Sheppey became some of the first in the world to be vaccinated against the coronavirus today (Tuesday).
Veteran writer Bel Austin led the way as she arrived at Sheerness Medical Centre for her appointment.
Video: Bel Austin
The 85-year-old great grandmother, believed to be Kent's oldest working journalist, was among the first traunch of 80-year-olds to be called in to have the injection at what is once again England's number one covid hotspot.
She said: "I may be old with two artificial knees, two artificial hips and a gammy foot but I'm not ready to go just yet so I jumped at the chance to have this vaccine. I got a phone call last Monday to say I was one of the first."
She added: "It was all so well organised and efficient. I went up in the lift, I was given a form to read to say I agreed with everything and asked if I was allergic to anything and then went straight into the surgery where the nurse did the injection. It was all over very quickly and painless. I just had to wait 10 minutes at the end."
The great grandmother has been reporting Island news for her local newspaper the Sheerness Times Guardian since she was 14. She said she was proud to be leading the way.
Sheerness Health Centre in the High Street was the first surgery in Swale allowed to give the vaccine and one of only four across Kent and Medway. It must use all its 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine within three days because of the vaccine's shelf life out of the freezer. By lunchtime today staff drafted in from the Island's other surgeries had already seen more than 300.
Patients receiving the vaccine must wait 15 minutes before allowed to go home after two NHS staff suffered allergic reactions in the first wave. Among those getting the injection today were 94-year-old Margaret Ryan of Petfield Close, Minster, and couple John and Jean Carter of Bramstone Road, Minster.
Retired lorry driver Mr Carter, 86, a great grandfather, said: "We had a phone call and then a text asking us to come in. It was absolutely brilliant. We were met by a nurse when we arrived, taken to a lift and met by another nurse when we got out.
"We were done together. It didn't hurt at all. It was just like a flu jab. We were then shown to a waiting room for 15 minutes. This vaccine is a good idea otherwise I can't see this pandemic stopping."
All at-risk Sheppey patients aged 80 and over are being sent to Sheerness Health Centre. There was a steady stream of them arriving today, some by car, some in wheelchairs and some walking. One other centre also opened today in Herne Bay.
Health bosses said as more vaccine becomes available more sites will open. Another four are expected to go live tomorrow (Wednesday) and one on Thursday. Up to 17 are being planned to operational by the end of the week with further planned in the New Year.
William Harvey Hospital in Ashford launched Kent's first Covid-19 vaccine clinic last Tuesday . Medway Maritime Hospital at Gillingham is receiving an initial supply this week.Other hospitals, large vaccination centres and mobile services for the housebound and care homes will follow.
Dr Navin Kumta who chairs the Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group which plans the county's healthcare, said: “This is a massive step forward in our fight against Covid-19. It is a big task and it will take time.
"Patients will be invited when it’s their turn so there is no need to call your surgery. Please be patient and keep surgery phone lines free for others who need appointments and prescriptions.”
He added: “The vaccine is the long-term game changer. But everyone will need two doses given about a month apart. So right now we still need to be taking every step to stop the spread of the virus.
“It’s critical that anyone with symptoms self-isolates; along with everyone in their household. And we all need to keep washing our hands regularly and properly; wearing masks and keeping two metres from others wherever possible.”