The primary call to action for the last two years has been to roll up your sleeves and get jabbed, but how much do you know about the team behind the needles?
On the whole, the public has responded with great willingness to the No.1 request from the government to tackle the pandemic. And with some nervously squeezed-shut eyes and pre-jab anticipation, more than 130 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been provided to the public across the UK. Made possible, of course, by incredible civil and public servants right across all corners of the public sector, working on The Vaccines Programme - succinctly named - which won this year’s Programme of the Year Award.
Teams from DHSC, the Vaccine Taskforce, NHS England, the UK Health Security Agency, MHRA, NHS Digital and the Cabinet Office worked at extraordinary pace, overcoming daily hurdles to buy millions of doses of vaccines and get millions of citizens vaccinated as safely and quickly as possible. The programme has saved hundreds of thousands of lives and prevented millions of infections. Uptake has exceeded all previous vaccination programmes and the pace and operational excellence of the programme has been globally recognised.
It really is no wonder that this life-saving programme won over the Civil Service Awards judges for this category. Despite the “rollercoaster” year, we’re told, the team is “humbled” and “proud” to have been recognised in this way.
But the team notes that its success has only been made possible because of the response from the public. “So many people across the country have joined this incredible national effort to get people vaccinated over the past 14 months,” says Antonia Williams. “It has been an immense privilege to be a part of the programme and I am sure many others feel the same. Working on a mission of such critical national importance during the pandemic helped us deal with the pressures and challenges along the way.”
A race against the virus
With a goal to get vaccines into as many arms as possible in a race against the virus, the team faced a mammoth challenge to assess and procure the most promising vaccines, develop emergency legislation and the policy framework for deployment, mobilise all areas of the NHS to deal with the rollout, and develop a brand new national booking system.
The programme faced, and continues to face, intense scrutiny from parts of the public and media, but the team took it in their stride.
“We used the media interest to our advantage and arranged for clinicians to give a lot of broadcast interviews to answer questions about the vaccine,” explains Antonia. “To show the pace and scale of the programme, we brought it to life with TV features on vaccine sites and vaccine volunteers and all the brilliant NHS staff who have run centres and worked so hard to answer people’s questions about the vaccine. We are so proud of everything the programme has achieved, and to see that on TV so regularly has really helped to get information and advice to people.”
Despite the intense challenges, not least from an evolving virus, the team reflects on the task positively - possibly something to do with exceeding expectations and ensuring that more than 90% of the British public have had at least their first dose. Not only has this programme benefitted citizens by preventing them from serious illness and hospitalisation, medical professionals also feel positively about the rollout.
“I am so grateful to everyone involved in the national vaccination programme. I have received three doses of vaccine and feel much more confident managing my patients on the wards. It's amazing how easy it was to get my vaccine - the whole process was very efficient and quick, with clear and helpful information every step of the way.” - Dr Emily Shaw
However, with a recent variant posing further threats and new campaigns to encourage everyone to play their part to protect themselves and others, it looks like the work for this part of the Civil Service is far from over.
“Plenty to get on with!”