Universities serving on the front line in Covid fight

Across the country, universities are being turned into Covid vaccination centres, while students and staff are flocking to volunteer their services in immunising the local community

While debate continues to rage over the best route through the pandemic for higher education, the sector is playing a key role in helping communities across the country fight back against Covid.

Northumbria University, for example, has provided up to 12 working days for staff to volunteer for a variety of roles in immunising the local population, with students also offered the opportunity to support the vaccination roll-out.

Over the weekend (16-17 January), five senior academics from the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences became the institution’s first volunteers as they helped vaccinate more than 300 people over the age of 80.

Dr Joanne Atkinson, head of social work, education and community wellbeing, described being able to help as “one of the greatest privileges of my life. The emotions shown by the patients receiving their vaccine moved me to tears.

“Many of them had been shielding and hadn’t left their home since March. They were crying with joy and relief at finally receiving the vaccine and were so relieved and grateful at the prospect of finally being able to see their children, grandchildren and friends again, once they are able to do so safely and within the restrictions.”

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Elsewhere, the University of Nottingham has opened two vaccination services, including a conversion of the film studio that once housed the likes of Supermarket Sweep and Family Fortunes.

So keen were people to help with the programme that more than 770 applications were submitted in just 72 hours.

“Seeing the way in which our university community has risen to the challenge of Covid-19 from the start of the pandemic – whether it be through working to develop new vaccines, volunteering to support our local communities, or leading numerous research studies to increase our understanding of the virus and its impact – has been a constant source of inspiration to me,” said the university’s vice-chancellor, Professor Shearer West.

Last Saturday (16 January) saw the first jabs administered at Sheffield University Health Centre. Community health workers, hospice workers, and the over-80s, were among those vaccinated by a 35-strong team, with around 1,200 people seen over the course of the weekend.

“We are delighted to be able to deliver this large-scale project to help,” said nurse manager, Emma de Chenu. “We are acutely aware of the effects of this disease and relish the opportunity to be involved in the fight against it.”

Finally, the National Horizon Centre (NHC) at Teesside University has been selected as the home of a vaccine manufacturing training hub.

“The NHC, with its leading expertise and state of the art bioprocessing and virtual reality capabilities, is perfectly positioned to up-skill and cross-skill hundreds of people in the coming months,” said the centre’s director, Dr Jen Vanderhoven.

“We will deliver the necessary technical hands-on training to create the workforce needed to manufacture vaccines and advanced therapies, to overcome COVID-19 and any future pandemics and diseases.”

Anyone wanting to support the vaccine roll-out can do so by registering to join the NHS Covid-19 vaccine team. A variety of paid and volunteer roles are available.

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