A difficult decision

Each week since the start of lockdown I have had a zoom call with family members. Represented in that call are seven countries stretching from Finland and Denmark, through Europe to the UAE and Hong Kong. Each has had its own interpretation of lockdown and its own philosophy on vaccination. It is difficult to understand why there is no consensus derived from combining the experience of what is most effective in every country, that is until one listens to the almost patriotic fervour with which each defends the approach of their own territory.

There is surely no more striking divergence of opinion in relation to Covid than the controversy in relation to the Astra Zeneca vaccine. Denmark will not permit it at all, Spain not for the over seventies, Germany not for the under sixties and of course the UK not for women under 30. There was never a more important time for a united approach.

Now we hear that the Johnson and Johnson vaccine has been withdrawn temporarily. How can anyone prove or disprove the cause of six cases of clotting or one death out of 6.8 million people or occurrence out of the 20 odd million in the UK and safely blame it on a vaccine?

On the one hand we have the independent regulator in most countries approving the vaccine while the media and in particular individuals on social media who seek to justify the opposite point of view.

After a professional life where I placed my faith in the UK’s regulator, even sometimes when a radical change of direction proposed was uncomfortable to accept, I still could not be deaf to the debate about the AZ vaccine. While one life lost in a million seems such a small risk, it could be a death in my family. That for me was always the basis of professional decision making. I asked myself “what would I do if this patient was my mother or my child”.

As a vaccinator, found myself made uncertain about the use of the Oxford vaccine. My personal dilemma was whether I could continue to inject it and remain part of the programme and how to evaluate the risks.

I know a young mother and know of the father of an unborn child who died of Covid. And I know those who have suffered Long Covid which left very fit young people seriously ill. Covid is not just a disease affecting older people.

The vaccination programme has saved thousands of lives and tens of thousands from serious and often life changing illness. This outweighs the unproven incidents of which it is blamed. The UK’s decision not to use the Astra Zeneca vaccine on young women is a wise precaution at present and has helped in my decision to carry on.

The fact that I am insured and that the NHS ultimately takes responsibility for my actions plays no part in my decision. I do it because I believe it to be the right thing to do.


Trevor Twohig

As I mentioned in a recent message, local Author Trevor Twohig offered some books as a token of gratitude to the volunteers. The introduction was made by Vicky Feaver who some of you will know. Below is a note from Vicky, words of thanks from Trevor and the names of the winners.


I’ve only know Trevor a few months & completely by accident too I guess! I happened to come across his first novel called Sunny Sands & when I realised it was based in our gorgeous town I posted about it on Facebook and it went mad! Everyone started buying it, reading it and commenting on it, it was crazy!

Then Trevor got in touch with me to thank me for mentioning his books and we’ve stayed in touch. So of course he’s also been on my volunteering journey with me which leads to why he wanted to just say thank you to you all for everything you do for others.


Some things in life supersede the pull of a hometown, the desire to succeed or the relentless pursuit to stay afloat in this topsy turvy world.

There were times over the past year, when I have lost hope, when the life raft had sprung a leak and it all seemed too much to take in, to process and to handle.

It is in these times that I believe we are gently guided towards the light, towards hope. We are tribal beings, drawn towards community, to serving others and to love.

This modern COVID crisis caused us to question all of this, our faith in what we know to be right.

The light comes from helping the homeless. It comes from litter picking on the beach with your kids. It comes from volunteering to administer a vaccine. To help our communities towards a brave new world where no one knows or understands what the future may look like. But the desire is there for good. The desire to save lives. The desire to love.

So, three books is not a sufficient gift for the volunteers who deserve so much more. But it’s something. Love perhaps. Thankyou to you all!

Trevor Twohig

So with the help from Joe, Trevor has picked 3 random numbers from the volunteering list & the winners are:

Lesley Anderson

Howard Cocker

Andy Quittenden

Congratulations! We’ll be in touch with you about how to collect your signed copy of Sunny Sands, Crimson Cross or 2 Wolves

You can find out more about Trevor & his other works at http://www.trevortwohig.com

Well done everybody, keep up the great work & big thanks to Trevor for the kind prizes.

Euphoria is replaced by anxiety

I was there on the opening day of the Civic Centre and again the first day of Debenhams just ten weeks ago. How life has changed in those very important weeks, yet is seems so long ago especially on such a hot spring day as I write.

In those dark days in January we were just heading into a very windy spell, followed by a wet spell and then an extremely cold period, at a time when the oldest and most frail in our town were coming for their vaccine.

I feared for the vulnerable patients to be out for the first time in a year, in the bitter cold and was amazed that the volunteers remained so cheerfully willing especially at the Civic Centre. Now we must remind everyone to use sunscreen.

Those early days were emotional times. People who has been isolating for a year were so pleased to be vaccinated. But we were all still very much living in fear of the virus and delighted to be witnessing the start of the recovery.

Last week when I was vaccinating there was a very different atmosphere in many ways. I checked myself many times fearing I have become a little complacent. I like most of us there have had my second dose of vaccine so it is right that we should have confidence in what we are doing but it is important to remember that no vaccine is 100% reliable – excepting today’s report from the US about Pfizer in the young – so there is still a risk for us all. In checking myself I was remembering that all of the large numbers of people passing through the building have not been vaccinated. Chances are that amongst the queues are some who are infected. We must still be on our guard.

I noticed also a change in the mood of those being vaccinated. Gone is the tearful euphoria at the sense of freedom which the vaccine immediately gave those early recipients. I recall how I felt immediately following my first jab so I asked my patients how they felt. The answers surprised me and my awareness was awakened in yet another way.

There is no doubt that the concerns raised about Astra Zeneca have damaged the reputation of the vaccine. More than one patient replied that they had doubts and delayed their injection while they did their research. Research for facts on social media on this subject is very difficult only serving to intensify fears. But gone now is the powerful feeling of which I wrote in an earlier post about the placebo effect of having the vaccine injected, to be replaced by resentment and lack of trust which may cause the nocebo effect of intensified side effects.

Are you excited to have the jab I cheerfully asked another lady but was surprised when she tearfully replied that she was very concerned. A few moments explaining how I felt after my jab and why, relieved her. She thanked me not for the vaccine but for those few moments.

Then there were the big muscular guys with arm muscles popping out for this painless jab. I haven’t spent all my life as a dentist not to know fear no matter how big the smile and that apparent nonchalance. Beads of sweat are a give-away. Few people look forward to the invasive procedure but right now the process of vaccinating has become more complicated.

There has been so much adverse publicity about vaccines; Astra Zeneca in particular, that anxiety is understandable even though over 35,000,000 injections have been given in the UK without evidence of the concerns being raised elsewhere. We all have to realise these real anxieties and spend a little time where necessary trying to ensure that patients are in as good a frame of mind as I was, and all the early patients were, to be injected back in the dark cold days of bleak winter when the future with vaccination looked so uncomplicated.

Planning for the mass centres was for speed and efficiency. Now it needs just a little more time.

Joe Sullivan

Share Your Memories of Folkestone for a Community Project

Do you have some special memories of Folkestone you’d like to share for a new community project?

Perhaps you used to visit the Rotunda regularly and met your partner there, or used to gaze in wonder at the rock being made in the Old High Street?Or maybe you know someone in your family, or a friend who likes to wax lyrical about their memories or has some funny anecdotes?

Volunteer Michele would love to hear your memories and share them as part of a project called Folkestone StoryMap: Your Stories which is being funded by the National Lottery Community Fund through the Local Connections Fund.

Michele, who has a community interest company called Hand of Doom Productions, said: “Everyone is aware that Folkestone has changed greatly over the last few years, with the loss of much-loved landmark attractions like the Rotunda (and of course, as we all know Debenhams and former Bobby’s), and there’s almost a sense of loss from people who remember the town as another place. We know that lots of people talk about their memories of Folkestone very fondly and we want to try and capture that for posterity.

“So far we’ve had stories about the lorry park, a secret den in the Warren, getting around the old Sunday pub hours by taking a ferry to Bolougne and back (thank you Neil!) and about the wonderful nightlife but we’d love to hear more memories about the Harbour, Sunny Sands, the Ferries and the town in general.”

You can record your stories using a smartphone, or via a Zoom call, and then send them in via the website. They will then be added to the Folkestone StoryMap audio trail in the Lower Leas Coastal Park which launched at the end of last year. The trail uses QR codes fixed to a site specific location and are accessed via smart phones to listen to the stories.

Michele’s looking for stories of up to two minutes but they can be longer if need be so don’t worry about being over or under. We’d also love a photo to go along with the memory. If you’re a little shy about being identified though you can be anonymous.

There’s help and advice available at folkestonestorymap.co.uk, or if you’d like more help to record your story, you can contact Michele at michele@handofdoom.online and she can help you. 

I look forward to hearing your wonderful memories!
Thank you.

For more details go to folkestonestorymap.co.uk for full details.

Channel Rotary 30, 50 or 70 Mile Bike Challenge

Sunday 4th July 2021

Full Details: http://bit.ly/ChannelChallengeCycleRide2021
Bookings: http://bit.ly/Channel70Booking

Online Entry Fees:
£21.60 per Adult Rider – (£25.00 on the day)
£11.40 per Child (under 16) – (£15.00 on the day)
£42.00 Family registration, 2 Adults + 2 Children under 16 – (£50.00 on the day)

In addition to the Registration Fee it would be great if every rider raises at least £25 in sponsorship.

The Leveller.

“The glories of our blood and state are shadows, not substantial things”

The first line of a poem I always recall written by James Shirley written in the first half of the seventeenth century when the Black death was raging in the UK. There was no vaccine in the seventeenth century so death was indeed the leveller. “Death lays its icy hand on kings”.

A strange way to start a report on the next phase of my journey, literal and metaphorical, to becoming a vaccinator. The physical journey in training and preparation took me to Whitfield for basic life support training, then to Maidstone for injection technique and onwards to East Malling for blood tests. A few more online modules and I was ready to go. It would have been easier I think to re-join the Dental Register from which I resigned just a year ago.

Finally my first day as a vaccinator arrived. Pleased to be part of this fantastic national effort I donned my scrubs, the uniform of the vaccinating team, with a little trepidation not having brandished a syringe for a while, and joined the briefing upstairs in Debenhams as part of an impressive gathering of some 50 colleagues, where I discovered that in its own way, the vaccine has been a great leveller.

But the training had further steps to go. A short period as an observer and then being observed finally enabled me to be signed off in competency for about thirty aspects of injecting the Pfizer vaccine. The same process followed for Astra Zeneca and will follow any time my role changes. There is no doubt that the process is thorough.

What is certain is that it also thoroughly explores ones determination to become a vaccinator. More than once I asked myself do I really want the hassle. The fragmented approval process was very frustrating. My colleagues on my first session included, an anaesthetist, a paediatrician, a GP, a midwife, a nurse, two other dentists and an orthodontist all of us retired. Three times in conversations I heard, without provocation, others echo my words of frustration, but all are there just to support the great national effort. We are all equal now.

“Sceptre and crown
Must tumble down
And in the duet be equal made”

What is fantastic to hear is the route of other colleagues to the vaccination force. A speech therapist, a health care assistant and someone who has just finished a health studies degree but had not found work, are indicative of how the training may open opportunities within the NHS for some who showed commitment and a work ethic; attributes of the vocation of nursing.

In my former national roles in my profession an issue which was highlighted was the difficulty women in particular found in returning to their work after years off for child rearing. Loss of self-confidence was a massive barrier. Research found that this was not just a problem for women. The fact that it was less common for men to have such periods away from work meant that it was not realised to be a problem. I discovered in conversation that training as a vaccinator and having to treat patients again has been a nice reintroduction for some, helping to regaining confidence.

But we are only part of the workforce. The volunteers form a similarly diverse group bringing skills and experience to their supportive role. The management of the flow of patients through the centre; assessing and observing them until they leave safely is as dependant on the volunteers as it is on the ‘uniformed’ workforce. They also understand the needs of the new vaccinator during induction, something for which I for one was very grateful. Everyone is very much an equal part of this wonderful team.

I have not forgotten the most important role of the pharmacists but they are hidden away, not to be distracted in their delicate task, not to be seen.

The vaccination programme has been amazing for the nation. It will no doubt have long-term benefits for recruitment in the NHS, it has been a time of discovery in the management of national projects and it has undoubtedly identified a great community spirit which we in Rotary hope we can build for the benefit of our community; from where further levelling will hopefully follow.

Now Shelly’s final words could be rewritten:

“Only the actions of the just
Smell sweet and blossom in the dust”

In the summer of 1665, when Shelly lived,15% of the population died.

The Bubonic plague of 1348-50 killed over 2,000,000 in the UK. 30-40% of the population.

Where would we be today without the vaccine?

Volunteer Virgin

I’d like to share my volunteering story so far of what it’s like to be a volunteer in the hope it may encourage others to have a go too.

I’ve always worked, even had my first job as a newspaper girl aged 13 & never not worked since until last year!  This was a bit alien to me, it didn’t feel right, not natural, to be sat at home & for some of it being paid whilst on furlough.  Homeschooling was hard at first but we all soon found a rhythm & settled into the flow well.  Then I felt a bit redundant again, so when I saw they were asking for volunteers to help out with marshalling at Folca & Civic Centre, I jumped at the chance.

I was nervous, I must confess. I wasn’t sure what to expect, what I’d have to do, would I even be safe? But I was getting a bit bored at home, I needed to do something, I needed to talk to other people, I needed to feel like I was helping in some way, so I signed up & I haven’t looked back since!

My first shift was at Folca in the waiting room, cleaning down the chairs & generally making sure everyone was OK. Part way through this shift I swapped this for the ramp which is just before the waiting room.  I could see the whole operation at work!  It was amazing to watch. I was in awe!  But the moment when I realised I was part of something truly amazing was at the 2pm shift change, when at the top of those beautiful Debenhams stairs came a sea of blue uniforms coming down to swap shifts. I felt quite overwhelmed by this sight & even a bit emotional, absolutely amazing!

It’s a great way to help people, everyone is so grateful for being there & I’ve met some really lovely people along the way. The nurses are fab, we have a giggle, we have a dance & even sing a song sometimes, it’s a long day for them otherwise.

I’ve also been lucky enough to volunteer at the boys Harvey Grammar, assisting the school on testing the children ready for their return. I had to complete 5 online modules which trained & tested me on how to assist & record results of the Lateral Flow tests. Again another amazing opportunity to be a part of this & glad I could help out.

Even though I am looking for part time work, I still want to be able to continue to volunteer when I can.

If you want to get involved somehow but wasn’t sure, maybe I’ve answered some of those concerns for you. You can pick & choose your shifts & location to suit you & it would be lovely to see you there.  

Thank-you to all the nurses & everyone who makes this volunteering happen.

Stay Safe,

Vicky Feaver

The Oxford Astra Zeneca Vaccine – VEINS: VEry Important NewS

With the introduction of any new treatment there is a well recognised repeated cycle of the medication/vaccination being heralded as a breakthrough followed by concern at side effects and a period of negativity before reaching acceptance that the treatment is of value despite side effects and a steady state reached of the risks and benefits. No medical intervention whether with medicines or surgery is without risk. The risk of doing nothing is greater than the risk of side effects, so it is with Covid vaccination. The recognised side effects thus far have been mild and transient.

There have been numerous media reports that there is a problem with the Astra Zeneca vaccine. The data supplied by AstraZeneca shows there have been 37 reports of blood clots among the 17m people across Europe who have been given the vaccine. The key question that has to be asked is whether this is cause or coincidence? Would these clots have happened anyway?

Adverse events like this are monitored carefully, so regulators can assess if they are happening more than they should. The 37 reports of clots are below the level you would expect. What is more, there is no strong biological explanation why the vaccine would cause a blood clot.

It is why the World Health Organization and UK drugs regulators have all said there is no evidence of a link. The European Medicines Agency, which is looking into the reports, has suggested the vaccine should continue to be used in the meantime given the risk Covid presents to health.

When 17m people are involved in a process then life events happen by chance in the days and weeks after they have been exposed to an intervention. Covid causes an increase in clotting and has led to many fatalities as a result of clots on the lungs. The vaccines cause an immunity but not the disease. It is the disease that causes clots.

No action, particularly medical, is without its risks. In taking an action then we have to weigh up risks and benefits. The benefits in preventing Covid by taking the vaccine are clear and becoming clearer. The risks after 17m doses seem to be mild and short lived. The facts regarding Covid and the vaccinations may not be fully determined for years to come. We do know from previous experience with other vaccinations and other illnesses that vaccines work and are safe.

Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter, an expert in understanding risk at Cambridge University, says: “Sometimes it can be harmful to wait for certainty. Not vaccinating people will costs lives.”

Locally, in Folkestone and Hythe, the number of cases is now down to 23 per 100k per week. This is a massive improvement from the beginning of the year when the rate was 980 at the peak. Deaths are down from 42 per week to 5, hospital admissions show similar falls. A great deal of the fall in rates is due to the maintenance of social distancing but as society opens up we will rely more and more on the effectiveness of the vaccine.

The success of the vaccine programme recently is shown by over 47,000 people locally have been vaccinated to the 7th March. A testament to the organization of local Primary Care supported by Volunteers and but also by the local population in coming forward to take part in the programme. The adult population of Folkestone and Hythe is 91,000 showing that over 50% had already been vaccinated by at least one dose by that date.

Currently lockdown measures we are getting on top of the virus and by vaccination we will keep on top, and life will return to normal. The Astra Zeneca vaccination is a key weapon in the battle against the virus.

‘Life in High Viz’: My marshalling Experience at the Civic Centre Drive Thru Centre

 When, in early January, my wife saw on social media that Channel Rotary had been asked to identify volunteers to marshal at the first Covid Vaccination Centre in our area, I knew  my chance had come to finally wear the high viz jacket that had been stowed in my car boot since the French authorities made me put it there too many years ago to remember! Upon reflection, and to inject a bit more interest into this volunteering story, I should probably add that the opportunity of doing my part to help our country to defeat the Covid 19 pandemic also couldn’t be missed! Since then I’ve been undertaking shifts as a marshal at all different times, in all weathers, but mostly when it’s been cold so far, to book people in, show them where to drive and park, and to keep an eye on them for 15 minutes after they’d received their vaccination injections. I’ve found this an incredibly rewarding experience for several reasons. First, simply helping the nation in a small way to deal with the Covid crisis feels like the right thing to do. Secondly, to witness first-hand the relief on the faces of so many, particularly those of later years, once they receive their vaccine is a sight to behold – you can literally see a weight lifted from their shoulders with the realisation that they might once again be able to re-start their lives, without worrying in quite the same way as they have for so long. Thirdly, the camaraderie demonstrated by participating volunteers has been universal in my view, and represents such a positive response and impressive sense of community and commitment to the common good, which is all the more impactful when you know volunteers have been asked to limit their shift requests to ensure everyone who wants to make a contribution is able to do so. I know from speaking with other volunteers that I am far from alone in these views, and I’m sure that the momentum that has now been built will continue until the last day a Covid vaccine is needed. I’ve also been impressed by the hard work and energy of all the clinicians and nurses in vaccinating hundreds of people each day, contributing significantly to one in thee adults in the Folkestone and Hythe having now received their first vaccine injection; and also by how well organised everything has been to ensure appointment times are met as far as possible and no vaccine is wasted. All those involved have every reason to be very proud of the efforts they’ve made and continue to make. I’ve been so inspired that I signed up to be  a volunteer vaccinator with St John Ambulance and have now completed their excellent training programme, meaning I’m very much looking forward to undertaking some shifts as a vaccinator at [the old] Debenhams sometime soon.

 I’m very much hoping that if something good can come out of the Covid crisis it will be a revisiting of what we should all value most in life, and that a recalibration of society’s values more widely will lead to  a greater acknowledgement of the many good things that can be achieved when people work together to benefit others, with just taking part and making a real difference being seen as sufficient reward in itself when appropriate. Although not every situation will require the wearing of high viz, the future will undoubtedly be a brighter one if this happens and I would encourage everyone to play their part by doing whatever they can.

Dominic van der Wal