Community Respiratory Practitioner Helen Gremo, was first to be vaccinated today (Monday, 28 December) as hundreds of frontline community NHS staff in Kent join colleagues from across the country in the nationwide vaccination programme.

Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust (KCHFT), which is delivering the programme at Aylesham, is also supporting the vaccination of care home workers too and staff from other NHS trusts.

Helen, a specialist respiratory practitioner who works at Whitstable and Tankerton Hospital was the first to receive her vaccine at Aylesham Health Centre  (Monday, 28 December) when it opened its doors at 8am this morning to become part of the vaccination programme rollout.

Community Respiratory Practitioner Helen Gremo, was first to be vaccinated

She said: “For me, my priority is protecting patients. Working in a respiratory team, we have a responsibility to support the vaccination programme. If I can reduce my risk, it means I am protecting my patients and supporting colleagues as I am not going to be off work.’’

Government advice is that NHS staff should be among the first to receive the vaccine and invites to staff will follow the categories set out by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which means starting with patient-facing colleagues who are at highest risk first.

This is especially important in Kent as it continues to see increasing COVID-19 infection rates and high numbers of the new variant of the virus.

Community Nursing Team Leader Naomi Meakins had her first dose of the Covid vaccination on her way to work at Deal Community Clinic. The mum-of-two daughters aged four and nine, said: “We see vulnerable people all the time, so we are not only protecting ourselves, we are protecting our patients. I have got a young family and I need to be fit and well for them.’’

NHS colleagues are asked not to book a vaccination until they have received a letter inviting them to attend to be vaccinated. The Aylesham site joins those already up and running in Kent vaccinating people in priority groups recommended by the JCVI. The identified priority groups mean that anyone aged 80 and over is being vaccinated first followed by other groups, such as anyone aged 70 and over; this is to make sure those who are most vulnerable are supported as quickly as possible .

Dr Meera Patel is a GP at Folkestone Urgent Treatment Centre. As a diabetic who is patient-facing every day, she was really pleased to be able to have her vaccination and support the programme. The same was true for husband Dr Sadiq Basha, who also has diabetes and who has also been seeing patients throughout the pandemic.

Meanwhile, having the vaccination may enable Discharge Manager Philippa Toy to rejoin her colleagues in the discharge team at the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital in Margate. Philippa has not been able to work in the hospital since March because she has a respiratory condition that makes her high-risk, so she been working at home, but is desperate to return to support her colleagues.

KCHFT’s Medical Director and Faversham GP Dr Sarah Phillips said she would urge everyone to have the vaccination when it was their turn in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus and to give the best possible chance to bring an end to the pandemic.

KCHFT’s Medical Director and Faversham GP Dr Sarah Phillips

“I am so proud of the work the teams from Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust have done during the pandemic. Each and every one of them has put their life on hold in one way or another to do the very best for our patients, clients and service users.

“We know our patient-facing colleagues are more at risk of contracting Covid-19 in the course of their work and it’s a special day to watch the first of our staff, alongside our colleagues in care homes, come forward to be protected against the virus.

“The recent rise in cases and emergence of a new variant of the virus shows that we cannot let out guard down. As a GP, I will absolutely be having the vaccine when it is my turn and I am pleased to see so many people taking up the offer of the vaccine when invited. It’s safe, effective and offers us the best possible chance to bring an end to the pandemic.”

By Ed