Delays between vaccine doses provide better immunity – chief clinical researcher

At the University of Southampton, Professor Saul Faust has been focusing on delivering Covid vaccine trials and managing trials treatments and diagnostic tests across the Wessex region.

All vaccines available in the UK have been rigorously tested, and Professor Faust – director of the National Institute for Health Research’s Clinical Research Facility – has been instrumental in making sure that happens safely. Now he’s proud to see the vaccine being rolled out.

“It’s been brilliant – an amazing collaboration across the research and NHS networks,” he says. “Without the vaccine and NHS deployment, we will not be able to prevent further waves and impact that would have on the NHS.

“Even if the infection becomes an endemic condition like flu, the vaccine will stop people dying, and stop most people becoming so ill they have to go to hospital.”

So what would he say to people who are worried about getting the vaccine? “Please look around at how successful this has been so far, without lots of side effects. Hopefully this will give people confidence to take the vaccine when offered,” he says.

“When it comes to the time between doses, many vaccines involve longer delays between doses that often provide better immunity in the longer term.

“The vaccination programme is being rolled out in the way that is best for the UK population, and to try to ease pressure on the NHS and stop people dying. The scientific data is robust. It is better to give one dose to more people and then top it up. This is not a political decision; it is a scientific one based on robust data so far.”

"It’s a vast effort by everyone involved"

Many military personnel have come together to help speed up the vaccination programme, and 27-year-old Calum MacLeod of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards is just one of them. He was called upon by GMC (General Medical Council) Scotland to help set up sites in Glasgow that will be vaccinating more than 1,000 people each day.

“We at the Scots DG have been tasked with identifying and validating vaccination centres, and getting them up and running,” says Calum. “We’re doing anything from helping to lay flooring, to moving chairs and tables around. We’ve been on task now for just under two weeks.

“We’ve got 11 teams operational across Scotland,” he explains. “I’ve got eight people in my team in Glasgow, plus a reserve back in Leuchars. NHS Scotland has scouted out the key sites, and we go in with a checklist that involves assessing things like how big the car park is, and whether there’s enough space for the centre – to set out the number of vaccination cells that they want. Then there are issues like, where can we put the vaccination fridges? Is there good ventilation – not only in the hall, but in the room to keep the fridges cool?”

Each person involved in the vaccination programme has valuable skills to bring to the project, and their determination to work together and make a difference really shows.

“Every single organisation, whether that be NHS Scotland, the military, the local authorities or the contractors is bringing its own expertise,” says Calum. “The Army brings organisational capacity and a can-do attitude. It’s a vast effort by everyone involved. Then we’re helping to think outside the box; the Scots DG has had some experience working with this sort of military aid to civil authorities, as we were deployed earlier in the pandemic to construct mobile testing units.

“It was actually a similar situation there, where we would be given a site and then had to transform it from being in a car park or something like that into an actual operational centre where people could be tested. These have now been taken over by the Scotland Ambulance Service.”

And as the vaccination programme has shown so far, speed is of the essence – and with more than 10 million people across the UK already having received their first dose, things are moving fast.

“A large centre, like most of the ones in Glasgow that I’ve been working on, will handle 1,818 people per day – someone has really done the maths! I know some of the other guys have been working on extra-large ones whose capacity is even greater,” says Calum, who stresses how proud he is to be doing something for people in Scotland. “I’m from the local area so it feels really good to be getting these vaccinations out. A lot of my soldiers are also really happy and motivated to be helping communities across Scotland.”

Calum is well aware of the importance of his and his team members’ efforts in helping everyone be able to return to normality.

“When we take off the uniform at night, we’re just regular people, and like everyone else we want to get back to our everyday lives – going to the pub at weekends, meeting friends in restaurants or parks,” he says.

“Partners and families have all been affected by this, so we just want to get everything back on track, and we’re more than happy to do our bit.”

‘People have been saying, “Is it over? I didn’t even realise it had happened!”’

Corporal Sally Woodcock, 34, a clarinettist with the RAF, is working at a vaccine hub in Powys.

Volunteers have been keeping the vaccine hubs running, and when the pandemic pressed pause on Corporal Woodcock’s musical engagements, she was sent to offer support in Wales.

“There are so many people out there who need to have the vaccine as soon as possible,” says Corporal Woodcock. “All the staff working in the hub are just fantastic, and they graft so hard. I’ve been in various different roles there, and everyone is really friendly. Their dedication, patience and humour while all this is going on, with everybody that comes through, is just fantastic. So it’s lovely to be able to switch around and see how they all work – it’s been really good so far.”

And as someone who has now seen hundreds of people getting their vaccine, Corporal Woodcock can reassure them it’s quick and easy. “It’s absolutely painless,” she says. “You get a little bit of a numb arm afterwards, but you get that with a lot of jabs nowadays. People who have through have been saying, ‘Is it over? I didn’t realise it had happened!’

“Some of the people we’ve seen here have been quite nervous, especially when they’ve not been out of the house for a while, or have been shielding, so obviously you take the extra care for them. But it’s really nothing to worry about.”

‘People feel there’s now a way out of this’

Director of nursing at the Public Health Agency Northern Ireland, Deirdre Webb has been responsible for the rollout of the vaccination programme to care homes there.

Protecting people in care homes is essential, so it’s no surprise that she has been inundated with volunteers who are keen to help out.

“I lead on the workforce and logistics part of the programme,” says Deirdre, 57, from Belfast. “We have recruited a temporary vaccination workforce made up of people such as retired GPs and dentists. Everyone has been so enthusiastic and very keen to help out.”

Speed is of the essence, but safety is also paramount. “The care homes have gone through such hard times since the beginning of Covid and we were committed to deploying the vaccine there as soon as possible,” says Deirdre.

“We used the Pfizer vaccine, which required a lot of support from our pharmacy colleagues to help deploy it safely.

“I’ve been in nursing for 40 years and this has been the biggest vaccination programme I’ve ever been involved with.

“I am going to be trained as a vaccinator as well, so I can’t wait for that. But at the moment I am involved in the planning.

“We have small teams helping to deliver the vaccine in patients’ homes. Then vaccinations are also being given at GP surgeries and mass vaccination centres.

All our care homes have now received the first vaccine doses and we hope to see promising results by the spring. People have been so emotional to be receiving the jab, especially the older ones. It’s quite touching. I’ve not experienced this with any other vaccine before – it’s bringing a sense of sheer relief to people, and a sense that there’s a way out of this.”

Deirdre is well aware that rumours and false information makes people think twice about getting the vaccine, but hopes to reassure them. “There are a lot of myths circulating on social media. But I have had the Pfizer vaccine and feel very happy
to have received it.”

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