‘I helped to vaccinate most vulnerable in Sheffield – while ill with Covid’

“You don’t go into this job just to look at computer screens,” says Dr Jez McCole, reflecting on a GP’s year like no other.“It just so happens that’s all I could do this last year and it’s something that I’m good at.”

Thursday, 18th March 2021, 6:00 am
Dr Jez McCole on a Peak District ride during summer 2020

The people of Heeley, Gleadless, Sheffield and the wider UK have all benefited from the backroom efforts of NHS staff like Jez during the Coronavirus pandemic this past 12 months.The response to Covid 19 and the success of the vaccine programme has been very much a team effort, he said, with the local example of over 50 GPs, nurses, practice staff and volunteers from Heeley Trust welcoming, guiding and vaccinating the most vulnerable patients from the Heeley network of GP practices.As the strange new virus arrived in the UK over a year ago now, Jez and his colleagues at Gleadless Medical Centre quickly planned who could continue on-site GP work, and who should work from home.As a type 1 diabetic, with asthma and a history of serious infections, Jez set up his computer screens in the family kitchen in Lodge Moor and began setting up systems to help other medical staff work from home, which were then used across Sheffield and the UK during the worst stages of the pandemic.He then switched his attention to the vaccine programme, helping navigate all the unseen digital complexities behind the local ‘Yay! It’s your turn now!’ text message inviting us to book our part on the route back to normality at the local vaccine centre.“As we learned about what the virus was able to do to people, especially older people and those who were vulnerable, I was personally worried about it”, said Jez.

"I certainly didn’t want to get it.”But then I had to change mental gear and use my digital and organising skills setting up the vaccine centre, and give it everything I had.”After his own first jab late in December, in early January, just as the Mathews Centre vaccine hub in Sharrow was about to start vaccinating, he caught Covid 19 himself.Isolating in the spare bedroom, with his wife and daughters leaving meals at his door, he developed a fever, shortness of breath, lethargy and tiredness.

Then twice as much vaccine as expected arrived, so behind his bedroom door he had to organise a system to ensure all of the first 2,500 Pfizer vaccines to arrive in Heeley were used to vaccinate the most vulnerable people.

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Vaccine fridge with covid vaccines

And due to the short shelf life of the Pfizer vaccine after coming out of the deep freeze, they all had to be used within three and half days.

It was quite the challenge for anybody, never mind someone suffering with Covid-19.“I knew catching Covid could be life threatening for me, but luckily I was able to throw myself into the biggest professional challenge of my career that same week.”

“I had a wobble every now and then, but I was able to distract myself by giving out the vaccines.”He’s no idea how he came to catch the virus, but believes the vaccine he received 10 days before reduced its effect and probably kept him out of hospital.Jez has now had his second vaccine and aims to return to GP work soon.

It’ll be good to work face to face again, he says, and he’s also looking forward to his daily 13 mile commute, on his touring bike or his sleek new Van Moof e-bike.“Getting out for an hour a day on my bike, or walking the dog, or even a bit of running, has been absolutely essential in this past year,” he says.

LtoR Andy Jackson of Heeley Trust, Kate Joseph (CEO Sheff City Council), Dr Gasan Chetty, Dr Ollie Hart, outside Belgrave practice vaccine hub, Asline Road

The temptation when working from home is just to sit down and get on with it, he adds, so making a heart pumping outdoor head clearing commute is an easier way to keep yourself as well as you can when a virus like Covid threatens.As the vaccine wave continues, the local NHS GP networks, who’ve so far delivered over three quarters of the UK’s vaccines into the arms of people, will realise how volunteers and local groups can help keep people well in future, Jez thinks.“When this is all done, I think we’ll all look back on this as a highlight of coming together using each other’s talents and skills to to do something we wouldn’t have expected to be possible,” he says.

“It’s been astounding, really.”

‘Sheffield scientists awarded £1.2 million to design new Parkinson’s drug’ – see page 56 for more health news from around the city.

Patients being guided into the Heeley vaccine hub by community volunteers