A PHARMACIST has spoken of the pride and challenges his team has experienced at the coalface of the UK's mass Covid vaccine rollout, as the programme marked it first anniversary.

One year ago yesterday, grandmother Margaret Keenan was the first person to have a Covid jab, in hospital in Coventry.

Within weeks, vaccinations were available outside of hospital settings and Knights, in Bishop Auckland, became the first pharmacy in the region offering jabs in the community.

Its Covid vaccination clinic, on Escomb Road, started vaccinating people from the priority groups on Saturday, January 23 and has since administered 65,090 single doses – including first, second and booster jabs.

Superintendent Pharmacist Peter Horrocks said everyone at Knights, which now has ten vaccination sites across the North East, is proud of the role they have played in the fight against coronavirus.

But he admits it has not been without its problems including abuse of staff, vandalism of property by anti-vaxxers and patients’ high expectations.

He said: “We started the application process over 12 months ago and had a busy period going through the assurances with the NHS and our regulators then it was a big effort to train staff up, manage the sites and rotas.

“In Bishop Auckland we’ve worked seven days a week, 8am to 8pm, for most of this year.

“People have worked incredibly hard but it is very much the case that everyone wanted to be involved in such an historic and important step for the country. It is now part of our day-to-day.

“We're all incredibly proud to have been part of the Covid vaccine programme, which has saved thousands of lives and prevented many thousands of infections and hospitalisations.”

Read more: Boris Johnson hosts colleagues of GP who died of Covid at No 10

Mr Horrocks said long hours were the easiest challenge to face staff.

He said: “We've had activity by anti-vax protestors, vandalism of signs and some of our staff have faced abuse.

“We had one pharmacist subjected to racial hate by someone who didn’t want someone black involved in their vaccination – that is so wrong and why come in if you are going to kick off?

“One of the biggest challenges has been managing expectations.

"The Government releases information and the NHS has to put the process in place, so there’d be announcements about a new cohort able get their jab and people would expect it the next day but we couldn’t deliver immediately.

“There' have been some stock availability issues, we’d be crazy-busy one week and face having to shut down the clinic the next.

"I’d encourage people to continue to follow the guidance and advice and get their vaccinations when invited to do so.”

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