The British were not to be outdone by a White House ceremony celebrating an immigrant nurse leader’s role in promoting Covid-19 vaccination. So, our cousins across the pond honored their history-making immigrant nurse leader on July 12… and played a trump card that Americans can’t possibly top. Yes, they went there: the UK nurse received an award from the hands of the Queen.

Nurse of the Week May Parsons – who delivered the world’s first Covid jab on December 8, 2020 – was among the recipients of the George Cross Award at Windsor Castle (a setting also calculated to cast the White House in the shade) on Tuesday. The award, created by King George VI to recognize brave civilians in WWII Britain, was bestowed in honor of UK health care providers’ “courage, compassion, and dedication in circumstances of extreme danger.” In addition to Parsons, the award was also presented to her sister and fellow nurse Joanna Hogg, the first person in Northern Ireland to receive the vaccine and one of the first nurses to administer the life-saving shots.

Parsons recently earned an MSc in Global Healthcare Management at the Coventry University School of Nursing Midwifery and Health and is a Modern Matron for Respiratory at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire Trust. She moved to the UK from the Philippines in the early 00s and has been a nurse in the UK Midlands district for about 18 years.

A shot seen round the world

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When her turn in the spotlight arrived in late 2020, the Coventry nurse found out just a day before her big moment. And initially, she said, “I assumed it [the shot] was going to be the first in the West Midlands. I didn’t realize until afterward that it was the first in the country, never mind the world!”

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The choice of Parsons was apropos. As a committed participant in her hospital’s flu Peer Vaccinator program, she held a three consecutive year record for having administered more flu jabs than any other person on the staff, with a personal best in which she vaccinated 140 patients in a single day.

Parsons put her one-day warning about the history-making shot to good use. The person scheduled to receive the world’s first Covid jab was 90-year-old Margaret Keenan, so Matron Parsons visited her patient and tried to put her at ease before she bared her arm to the needle for the world to see.  She told a Royal College of Nursing reporter, “I went to see Margaret to build a rapport with her, making sure that she was aware the vaccine was new, and that there’d be a lot of press there.” Parsons added little comforting touches the next day as well, encouraging Keenan to wear her favorite color and helping her get her hair right before meeting the cameras. She recalled, “She [Keenan] was keen to have it – she wanted to get back to normal, see her grandchildren and the rest of her family.”

“It’s all about integrity”

After the momentous public jab, Parsons dove into the Midlands rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine, “managing the vaccination hub – the flow, mixing the vaccine,” as well as “staffing – recruiting people, training them, making sure they’re assessed properly and have the right information to give to patients.”

As a nurse, her role in encouraging vaccination seems obvious to her. “As a nursing profession, we have a relationship with patients where they trust us. It’s important for the rollout because we want them to be able to say, ‘Tell me straight, what will this do to me?’ I say to my family: I’m not going to tell you to have it if I wouldn’t have it myself. It’s all about integrity.”

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Like New York’s Sandra Lindsay, who received the first US Covid jab six days after her, Margaret Keenan has persistently failed to experience frightening or bizarre side effects from her historic jab. She has apparently not been surveilled via a sinister 5G network courtesy of Bill Gates, and her grandchildren must have been dismayed to learn that magnetic toys did not adhere to her skin. Instead, when she got her booster last September, Keenan, now 91 years old, enjoyed her moment of fame and expressed immense relief to see the efficacy of the vaccines.

After she and her famous nurse reunited for their booster shots and enjoyed their first hug, Keenan remarked, “I’m happy now that I can be free, it’s like the good old times. It was great to have May here, we have become a double act! It was such big news all around the world.” Then, with a lack of sympathy one might expect from a woman who never feared that forks and spoons might suddenly start sticking to her arms, she added, “Go and get the jab, it will save lives. I don’t really know what stops people from having it because it’s so quick. Do go and get your vaccination!”

Koren Thomas
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