From an Olympic Champion to a retired US army officer: the people rising to the extraordinary challenge of vaccinating the nation against COVID-19
Following the government’s decision to delay lifting restrictions, the nation is once again dependent on an army of volunteers to help win a race against time over the next four weeks. But who are the unsung heroes helping pave the way back to normal?
Since January 2021, tens of thousands of people from across the country have been volunteering with St John Ambulance in support of the NHS COVID-19 vaccination programme. Photographer, Matt Davis, was inspired to tour the country and find out more about the volunteers after his wife became a St John vaccinator.
“I Kept hearing about the vaccination effort but very little about the volunteers themselves. It made me wonder who these volunteers were. What struck me the most was the sheer range of people involved. Visiting them and getting to know them has been an immense privilege,” shares Matt. “These are very different people from wonderfully diverse backgrounds, with a shared goal to do their bit during one of the most difficult periods of living memory.”
Zainab Yasmin, 43, public health programme manager in Tower Hamlets. Zainab joined St John Ambulance in March 2020 but had to delay volunteering after contracting Covid-19. ” Seeing so many people around me, including my family and friends, being affected by this horrid disease made me feel I had a duty to help the nation get back to normal. I’m excited to be making a difference, helping to prevent an increase in cases and bringing our country a step closer to normality”. She’s a regular at the Royal London Hospital, supporting staff in the emergency department and adult critical car, alongside her role as a vaccinator.
Alan Wrigley, 69, Yorkshire. Flight examiner and retired commercial pilot. Alan has also been a magistrate for 27 years. His passions include his family, gliding, playing the saxophone and game shooting. Alan is most inspired by The Queen and her selfless devotion to the public service. He speaks Spanish and spends five to six months in Jerez each year.
Nia Faulder, 35, Bolton. Nia Is a mum of two and a scientist working as programme manger for an international education provider. She uses a wheelchair after suffering a nerve compression injury during pregnancy in 2017. She’s played wheelchair basketball with The Bulls Disabled Sports Club in Bolton since June 2019. Initially turned down for a vaccinator role after answering ‘no’ to the question “can you stand up for a six-hour programme shift?” Nia contacted St John Ambulance direct and was accepted on the training programme. Her beloved grandad was her greatest inspiration in life, dying of Covid in January 2021 shortly before be was due to be vaccinated.
Ka Chun Li, 20, Microbiology student at Imperial College, London. Ka Chun moved from his home in Hong Kong las year. He loves London and getting involved with St John helped him make lots of friends, meeting many fantastic, passionate people from different backgrounds. Ad well as being a volunteer vaccinator, he’s also part of the National Welcome Team, interviewing people who apply to volunteer for the vaccination programme. When he’s not supporting the vaccine rollout he enjoys swimming, reading, Netflix, running and travelling. And he’s a big fan of Little Mix.
Muni Coverly, 60, Lancashire. One of five siblings from a small village in the foothills of Mount Kenya, Muni’s family migrated to England in 1978. Muni has been a magistrate since 2004, at the local court and crown courts, in Manchester. She volunteers at theManchester Vaccination Centre (Etihad). She was a bit anxious during her first session, having never given anyone an injection and having a slight needle phobia.
Claire Vallance, 45, Professor of Physical Chemistry at the University of Oxford. After growing up in New Zealand, Claire has lived her adult life in the UK. She volunteered in trials of the university’s COVID vaccine and liked the idea of training as a vaccinator, as it meant being involved in the project from start to finish. Outside university life she enjoys endurance sports including cycling, triathlons and long distance swimming.
Pieter Rutkowski, 59, Cheadle Hume, Cheshire. Pieter is a retired US army officer and during his 30-year military career made 52 parachute jumps and administered vaccinations on five continents. One of his biggest inspirations is Neil Armstrong, who he met at Landstuhl Military Medical Center in Germany in 2010, whilst treating the wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Zoe Harrigan, 38, York. Zoe is stained glass conservator for the York Glaziers Trust which is the oldest and largest specialist stained glass conservation studio in Britain and one of the biggest in Europe. Her work is dedicated to the care and conservation of historic stained glass in York Minster and throughout the UK. Since March 2021, she’s been involved in nearly 1,00 vaccinations, volunteering as a patient advocate and carer, looking after people before and after receiving their jabs. “I enjoy talking to people and trying to make them feel at ease. I always thank them for turning up to be vaccinated. For some, it’s a real feat of bravery and I want them to know we’re very grateful and appreciative.”
Anna Watkins, 38, Cheltenham. Mum of two and MBE, Anna won a bronze medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics and gold at the 2012 Summer Olympics, both in the double sculls. Last year she volunteered as a community responder, chatting with local people and helping them with things like shopping. “I looked at the doctors and other health professionals saving lives and thought to myself ‘all I do is row backwards very quickly!’. So when I was offered the chance to train as a volunteer vaccinator with St John Ambulance I didn’t hesitate”.
Rachel Gillis and Medina Walters, 33 & 65, Leeds. Rachel and her mum are black British Caribbean and live together in Leeds. Medina is a retired nurse who now works as a part-time minibus driver for the local council, taking vulnerable adults to day centres. Rachel works as a freelance translator, mainly for UN organisations, translating documents from Arabic, Spanish and French into English. Both knew how important the vaccination campaign would be for getting the country back to normal and wanted to contribute to the effort. An avid flamenco dancer and kickboxer, Rachel is most inspired by her Mum to whom she attributes her work ethic.