Judith Lathey, interim Care Manager at Florence House in Peterborough, was among the first people to have the coronavirus vaccine. She told us about the experience


Before you had the vaccine, what information did you receive? How did this prepare you?
Our local authority, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, together with the local NHS trust, ran two online Zoom briefings. One was for care home providers focussed only on vaccination information, the other was the regular care home forum which was able to follow up with queries. The briefings were hosted by health care experts and we had the opportunity ask questions and air any concerns. The experts were able to provide reassurance that the vaccine is safe and there is no possibility of catching Covid-19 as a result of the injection. They explained that the vaccine has been developed so quickly because researchers have been putting all their energy into it, including running all the usual checks. This put my mind at rest. We also received an information booklet and a helpline email should we have any further questions. I was therefore equipped with all the details I needed to inform the rest of my team and answer their questions, or point them to someone who can.

Where did you go to get the vaccine? What was the experience like?
I was invited to book an appointment at Peterborough City Hospital. When I arrived, all the usual social distancing measures were in place with everyone wearing masks. The staff member giving the vaccine was very adept – I didn’t feel a thing, not even a scratch! For about 24-hours afterwards, the top of my arm felt sore, like a bad bruise, put there was no mark to see.

Why were you so keen to have the vaccine?
It’s clear to me that if we are going to get back to anything resembling normal it’s something the majority of the population will need to do. Working in a care home, I am very conscious of the need to protect those living with us. At the moment, the only vaccine authorised for use is the Pfizer vaccine which has to be stored at very low temperatures. This makes it tricky to transport in order for care home residents themselves to be vaccinated. Therefore, it’s all the more important that care home staff are vaccinated – we are the first line of defence. On a personal level, I feel very privileged to be among the first to have the vaccine – if I wasn’t a care home manager, I wouldn’t have had this opportunity.

How will having the vaccine impact your family life?
Both my sons are in person-facing occupations – one is a teacher and the other works for a London bus company. I haven’t hugged them or my grandchildren in months – given the job that I do, it seemed like the risk of picking up the virus and passing it on to those at Florence was too high. I’m looking forward to being able to hug them again before too long.

All those working at Florence House have been offered the vaccine. What has the uptake been like?
Very positive. Our staff members recognise the importance of having the vaccine to protect those living with us, as well to protect themselves and members of their own families who may be vulnerable and shielding. Some of our staff members have a fear of needles, which I can empathise with. They have been very brave about it, booking in their vaccination slot just to get it over with. I am very proud of them!

How will life at Florence House change now that staff are having the vaccine?
For the moment, nothing will change in terms of the measures we have put in place to protect our family members. That was one of the things that was emphasised at the briefing – it is important not to relax our guard. For one thing, none of us have yet had the second dose of the vaccine, due 28 days after the first dose, which can give 90 per cent immunity. None of our family members have had the vaccine yet and so there is still a very real risk to them. At the same time, I can honestly say that is feels like we have turned a corner. For the first time in months, it feels like positive action is being taken to give care homes the support and protection they deserve.

You have been very open about having the vaccination, including having a selfie taken to show your team. Why did you want to be so public about this?
I know that people can be very swayed by misinformation and I’ve seen a lot of ridiculous stories on social media which stem from a lack of knowledge. It just fuels people’s fears. There are times in life we need to be loudly positive, and this is one of them. I’m a trained nurse and have spent my entire career in caring roles. Until routine vaccinations came in, thousands of people died as a result of conditions like smallpox and polio. Those who survived often lived with the effects for the rest of their lives. One of my roles was a community support worker and I saw older people who needed more and more care as a result of conditions they had suffered as children when the vaccines weren’t available. Having a vaccination is life-changing. Those who aren’t eligible rely on the rest of us to have it. So I would urge everyone who can to take up the offer.

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