CAT litter trays have never been used like this before – as a vessel to ferry needles and vaccines to Britain's brilliant jabbers.
Vaccine minister Maggie Throup, 64, looked on with delight as she joined The Sun’s Jabs Army in action at a centre in Derby.
She hailed the volunteers of our campaign, which has seen more than 80,000 dedicated readers sign up to be stewards.
Maggie said: “I think the Jabs Army campaign run by The Sun has been absolutely amazing. The fact in that your last call for volunteers you managed to get 30,000 in three days, I thought was just incredible.
“I want to say a huge thank you to all Sun readers for coming forward, volunteering and giving up your time – in what is such a difficult time for everybody.
“You're all making a huge, huge difference and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for doing it. It’s brilliant.”
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The site, at Midland House, Derby, did more than 3,500 first, second, and booster jabs last Sunday – a record for the site.
They administer Moderna, Pfizer, and Astra-Zeneca each day and vaccinate everyone from 12-year-olds to the elderly seven days a week.
Volunteers and medics at the site said they were seeing a mix of people coming forward for their first jabs as well as their boosters.
Ms Throup urged people to come and get inoculated no matter where they were in the process.
She said: “I think it's important that people do come forward. It's been proven that the jabs are safe.
“The offer's always open if people haven't had their first jab yet or have delayed their second jab. Please come forward.
“It is really the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones. I've had my first, my second and my booster and I never felt a thing any of the times – and you're perfectly okay afterwards.
There is no judgement
“Nobody's going to judge you if you’re just getting your first one now. It's just important that you come forward and protect yourself from this virus.”
The centre has 19 stations which are manned by ten vaccinators working at one time.
Volunteers Paula Beenham, 61, Jane Dolan, 61, and Vaughan Minshull, 68, told the minister how much they’ve enjoyed staffing the site.
Jane, from Mickleover in Derby, said: “It’s really nice to be appreciated from time to time. This programme has shown the power of the community when it pulls together.
“It’s been an absolute pleasure.”
Paula, from Elvaston Castle, added: “People should really get jabbed in the run-up to Christmas. It only takes a few minutes and if you can spare a few hours for Christmas shopping, you can do the same for a vaccine.”
Former bricklayer Vaughan, from Chesterfield, trained to be a vaccinator through St John’s Ambulance and joked that some people were shocked at his former job when he administered their inoculation.
I’m 26 and I’ve had my booster to stay safe
By Thea Jacobs
During my visit to the Midland House Centre in Derby, I grabbed the opportunity to get my booster vaccine.
I'm only 26 but I know that having all the doses recommended by scientists and the government is the best thing to do for everyone I know.
So many of my friends have caught Covid since the Omicron variant has come over here and while it's not put them in hospital they have been very sick.
If I can avoid that by getting a booster then I am absolutely doing it. The process as a walk-in was simple and I only queued for about ten minutes.
I was a little nervous as I had been unwell after my second dose of Pfizer but I knew I wanted to be given the top-up so I can see my family without worrying.
The process was painless and I didn't even feel the needle as it was slid into my arm by the well-practiced vaccinator.
And an hour gone the only symptom I've got is a slightly sore arm which reminds me of my vaccines as a teen.
It's also made me feel safer straight off and if I do go see my elderly relatives I know that I've taken all the steps to keep them protected that I can.
If you're thinking about it, stop and go and get it
The site was initially at Derby Stadium and at one point last winter the volunteers ran out of wheelchairs and the volunteers ended up performing a relay with patients who couldn’t walk.
During Ms Throup’s visit, she also talked to joint clinical leads Nicola James, 57, and Julie Wheeldon, 59, who both came out of retirement to help with the vaccine drive.
Repurposed litter trays
The pair oversee the running of the centre and yesterday were setting up the vaccine packages for each station.
They’ve streamlined the process to have one vaccinator per two desks and upgraded to using cat litter trays to hold the equipment needed for each vial.
Julie said: “So, so many things have changed since we started but that's the important thing.
“You can learn from it and improve. When you think about the First World War, that was what brought about things like antibiotics and I’m sure this pandemic will bring about all sorts of changes to how we view healthcare and work together.”
She joked that the main disappointment was having a large capacity but not enough patients to fill it as people aren’t coming forward.
Fellow former nurse Nicola said: “We’ve had people from all over coming here. There was a gentleman from London who had travelled up as he was desperate to get a booster before seeing his loved ones at Christmas.
“It had worked out quicker for him to come up on the train to Derby than to wait at a walk-in site in London.”
HOW TO JOIN
VOLUNTEERS can register online at nhsvolunteerresponders.org.uk or by scanning the QR code above with your smartphone.
You will be asked to download the GoodSAM Responder app, which will match you to a role.
You need commit to only two six-hour shifts a month at a jabs centre. Your expenses will be covered and no experience or qualifications are needed.
You will be in a team with NHS staff and volunteers. The Royal Voluntary Service will make appropriate background checks.
GO TO: nhsvolunteerresponders.org.uk
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