Meet the military heroes vaccinating the nation

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RAF musician Sally Woodcock and Lieutenant Calum MacLeod, of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, have swapped usual duties for life on the vaccination front line.

Everyone needs a bit of music in their lives at the moment but Sally Woodcock, a clarinettist with the Royal Air Force, has put her day job on hold for now. Instead she has been stationed in Powys, Wales, where she is helping with the vaccine roll-out.

“The band has had a few engagements between the major lockdowns and we even managed to record a carol service for BBC Radio last year,” says Sally, 34. “But that’s pretty much it. Otherwise we have just been practising at home.” 

Sally was billeted to Birmingham before Christmas to help the council and was told she would be heading to Wales in the new year. “It’s been brilliant,” says Sally who has been in the RAF for 15 years.

MOD team
Team work: the vaccine roll-out is a monumental effort by everyone involved

“I’m not one to sit about doing nothing so it’s fantastic that, because of being in the military, I’m able to come out and help in this way. We’re working with fantastic people and staff, the volunteers give so many hours of their time, even after working from home all day, and the NHS staff levels of dedication is just phenomenal.”

Lieutenant Calum MacLeod, whose team identifies, validates, and operationalises vaccination centres, has also been impressed with the team effort between the military and other organisations.

He explains: “Every single organisation, whether that be NHS Scotland, the military, the local authorities or the contractors, is bringing its own expertise. The Army brings organisational capacity and can-do attitude. It’s a vast effort by everyone involved.

 Lieutenant Calum MacLeod
All together: Lieutenant Calum MacLeod is more than happy to play his part

“NHS Scotland has scouted out the key sites and we go in with a checklist that involves stuff like how big the car park is, is there enough space for the vaccination centre, to set out the number of cells or vaccination cells that they wanted? Then stuff like, where can we put the vaccination fridges, is there good ventilation, not only in the hall but in the room to keep the fridges cool? We’re doing anything from helping to lay flooring, to moving chairs and tables around.”

Both Calum and Sally are delighted to be doing their bit in the vaccination roll-out. 

“I’m here with five other musicians and a pilot. But there are other Royal Air Force musicians dotted about in Cardiff, in Swansea, up in Bangor, all doing the same,” Sally explains. “I was pleased to be able to come and help, especially in such a beautiful part of Wales!”

Sally says her days are busy and varied and dealing with a very grateful public makes them satisfying. “We’re a small team and we’re split into teams of two. The work can vary, but I’ve been going out doing car park duties just now. I’ve also been doing admin roles and on the phones. 

“We also look after people once they’ve had the vaccination. It’s great because they’re so chuffed and relieved that it’s out there, and there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

“They just seem to be holding us, and everybody that’s helping, in such high regard. I had one lady who had travelled a long way and she was absolutely ecstatic to be out of the house saying, ‘It’s so lovely to speak to someone, and lovely to see you.’”

Calum, who was born and raised in the area where he’s working, adds: “It feels good to be getting these vaccinations out. A lot of my soldiers are really happy and motivated to be helping out communities across Scotland. 

“When we take off the uniform at night, we are just normal people and we want to get back to our regular lives – going to the pub at weekends, meeting friends in restaurants or parks.

“Girlfriends, wives, families have all been split up by this. So, we just want to get everything back on track like everyone else, and we’re more than happy to do our bit.

Across the UK, people are working together to deliver the Covid-19 vaccine. Learn more at gov.uk/coronavirus

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