News Writer, Alex Boscott speaks to the first nurse, May Parsons, to administer the COVID-19 vaccine in the UK about her views on the vaccine rollout, her frontline experience, and what the future may hold

News Editor
Images by Mika Baumeister

Famous for inoculating the first person in the UK, Margaret Keenan, with the COVID-19 vaccine back in December 2020, videos of May Parsons vaccinating 90-year-old Keenan have been viewed the world over.

Not only was she responsible for administering Britain’s first-ever COVID-19 vaccine, but it also became the world’s first vaccination to be conducted outside of a clinical trial – cementing Parsons’ place in the history books.

However, Parsons, a Modern Matron for Respiratory, Education, and Escalation, has also been at the forefront of calling upon BAME communities to come forward and take the vaccine when offered. Her prominent voice during the pandemic has earned her plaudits from within the UK and around the world.

Speaking to Redbrick, Parsons began with reflecting on the pandemic and its effects in the UK since March 2020.

All I could remember is feeling the most tangible sense of fear sweeping across hospital staff. A lot of that was uncertainty and lack of information about COVID-19, the fear of the unknown’, says Parsons.
‘… I volunteered to be redeployed. Despite my personal fears about getting the infection and bringing it home to my family, I felt I could contribute something to help.’

All I could remember is feeling the most tangible sense of fear sweeping across hospital staff

She continued: ‘I was working in the ICU for three weeks in the initial wave and the fear was real … I saw patients dying that were the same age as me, some even younger and fitter than me. It was terrifying, to say the least.’

Parsons also discussed the preparedness of the NHS at the beginning of the pandemic, following the numerous reports of PPE shortages and shortcuts during the first wave.

‘I can only speak for what I’ve experienced within our [NHS] Trust. My [NHS] Trust has been phenomenal in responding to the needs of our local community and in their effort to support nationally to look after critically ill COVID patients.’

She also added that her Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust increased ICU capacity where possible, maintained a good level of PPE stock for staff whilst also keeping ‘staff informed of any national guidance changes.’

On the topic of administering the first global COVID-19 vaccine to Margaret Keenan, Parsons described being chosen as an ‘honour’, stating: ‘I help vaccinate our staff against the flu every winter for the last three years and have taken this role very seriously so to be chosen to vaccinate Maggie [Margaret Keenan] was a real privilege.’

In addition, the history-making nurse also paid tribute to those behind the ‘remarkable’ national vaccine rollout. ‘I am truly grateful for the volunteers, the scientists, the logistics team, and all the people who have worked in the front and back of the vaccination scheme’, Parsons told Redbrick.

Regarding the remaining challenges and the progress made so far during the pandemic, Parsons spoke personally about her experience on the front line, saying: ‘I personally think that we have come a long way since March 2020. We know more about COVID-19 and this means we have more tools in our armoury to help combat the pandemic.’

She adds, ‘the development of the vaccine is a testament to the brilliance of the people who came together to serve the same purpose.’

Reflecting on everything, Parsons admits, ‘it [the pandemic] has changed me as a person and as a nurse. We have all been affected by the pandemic and our response to it is the only thing we can control.’
Parsons concluded by claiming that she is ‘hopeful for the future’ and believes that she and others still have a lot more to contribute towards the pandemic efforts, whilst equally expressing gratitude to ‘those who support staff on the frontlines.’

Since Parsons’ first vaccination efforts last December, there has been rapid success – over half the UK population has received their first dose. It remains unclear to what extent the rollout impact will be on case rates and COVID-19 related deaths. However, the trajectory is currently positive. With all adults now eligible to book and receive a COVID-19 vaccine, the determination and willpower shown by Parsons and her colleagues have certainly been worthwhile.

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