Over 5,000 members of the Armed Forces have been helping establish and operate vaccination centres all over the UK and Overseas Territories. The brave men and women serving the country are now “beacons of hope” for older people and the chronically vulnerable who have been stuck at home since March last year, in order to protect themselves from the virus.
Prince William spoke with a small group of five members of the armed forces, who are taking part in the vaccine rollout, in his most recent engagement.
He told them: “I really appreciate all the hard work you guys are doing at the moment. It’s making a huge difference.”
He added: “I hope we come out of this lockdown very soon and a bit more social contact and life can come back to normal as soon as possible.”
The Prince heard the stories they had about all the people who have been stuck in self-isolation for so long that they felt liberated when they finally came into the vaccination centres. The Duke of Cambridge asked: “Are some of them a little bit unsure of, one, being in a social setting having been inside for so long but also about the jab and things like that?”
Private Jack Morelli of the Army’s 16 Medical Regiment told him: “Very rarely. I think the bigger thing is trying to move them along and dampen their enthusiasm if anything because so many of them have been cooped up inside the house for so long.
“They want to just chat you ear off for ages and it’s absolutely lovely. But yeah, it’s so nice to see them so happy and so energetic and so talkative.”
Megan Muirhead, leading Naval Nurse of the Joint Hospital Group (South West), described the joy she felt when she is ably to bring a kind of normality back into the lives of young people who have been deprived of it for the last year or so.
She said: “There was a young boy 26 like myself. He’s coming through, he’s telling me he’s not left the house since March. You know he’s got a condition through no fault of his own and he was just so excited to meet up with his friends and just have some social life back.
“And it seemed something so small because for me personally not much has changed, You know I’m still going to work, I’m wearing a mask now, things like that, but for him, his whole world had stopped. So it was lovely to be able to give him back a bit of normality really.”
Private Morrelli, who has been ‘stationed’ at the vaccination centres in Southend, Peterborough and Bury St Edmunds, explains how there is a real sense of joy when he is able to give back some freedom to those who have been sheltering themselves for so long, however, after taking the shot he makes sure to remind them that this is not over yet and should take it slow and steady.
He added: “You talk to some of these elderly people, as Megan was saying, and they’ve been shielding from the very beginning and you just think about what a long period of time that is at this point.
“And you start to emphasise even with the vaccine it doesn’t mean it’s a free for all, everyone can get out of lockdown.
“We’ve still got a long way to go. But I think a lot of people come in with that keen, eager enthusiasm because they do start to see light at the end of the tunnel now. It’s a real joy and privilege to be there to help get them there.”
Another one of the five, RAF Senior Aircraftman James North, of Joint Hospital Group (North), said that his tri-service team had really enjoyed going to a care home for military veterans in Salford and engaging in a bit of inter0services banter.
He said: “I did find it particularly refreshing personally to be able to have some solidarity with the RAF veterans and have some inter-services rivalry with the residents who served in the Army and Navy.”
William, who himself had been in all three services but finished as an RAF search and rescue helicopter pilot, as well as being a huge supporter of mental health, especially for military personnel, said: “That’s very healthy for everyone, James, very important.”
The two had a bit of banter as they talked about how James was often away from home and made video calls to his wife and his 18-month-old son to say goodnight.
Wills said: “I think seeing your face every evening before he goes to bed, that’s what he cares about, isn’t it, so it’s nice for him that you can do that. Even with that big bushy beard, James.”
Beards were banned in the RAF when William was in service back in 2013, however since then the RAF allowed them in September of 2019.